Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bus exhaust upsets Chevy Chase residents

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Chevy Chase neighbors of the Ride On bus depot on Brookville Road are putting trust in the county to solve what they believe is a pollution problem.

About 150 buses pass through the depot near Rock Creek Park on an average day, according to the county. Bus drivers are told — and required by state law — to turn off their engines when they are stopped for any amount of time in the depot.

But emissions are above healthy levels, according to the Coquelin Run Citizens Association, a group of about 800 homes around North Chevy Chase. The residents hope for a county- or statewide policy to curb diesel emissions from buses.

The neighborhood and county officials met during the last few weeks about the issue, continuing years of conversation about pollution and noise from the bus depot. Coquelin Run gave a wish list of sorts, based on a bus-emissions reduction program in Charlotte, N.C., to the county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation.

‘‘We do believe the county is being responsive,” said Eric Peek, the association’s president.

The neighborhood hired last June a Johns Hopkins University environmental health sciences professor to analyze diesel emissions at the depot during a six-day period. The particulate emissions were two-and-a-half times the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard, Peek said.

‘‘The 24-hour PM concentration exceeded the EPA standard for everyday in which a full 24-hour time period was assessed,” said the report by Patrick N. Breysse, the professor. ‘‘These results are suggestive that the bus depot is having a significant local affect on ambient particulate matter concentration.”

‘‘So of course we were alarmed,” Peek said.

Maryland state law sets a maximum idling time of five minutes, but exemptions include vehicles stuck in traffic or with uncontrollable mechanical problems. Idling is also allowed for heating, cooling and powering auxiliary equipment on a vehicle.

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia also have laws to limit engine idling, according to the American Transportation Research Institute.

The Environmental Protection Agency has published guidelines for limiting diesel emissions. The number one recommendation from the agency to bus drivers is to turn off engines ‘‘if you will be idling more than a few minutes.”

A typical bus can burn about a gallon of diesel fuel every hour it idles, the EPA says. The agency recommends using small generators or auxiliary power to generate heat or air conditioning while a bus is parked.

The county’s idling policy is ‘‘no idling,” according to spokeswoman Esther Bowring. Only when temperatures dip below 17 degrees Fahrenheit can bus drivers turn on the engine — for 20 minutes — while parked to warm up the engine.

To improve its operations, the county hired a consultant to ‘‘stand back and take a look at the entire depot operation,” Bowring said.

Stormwater management, air quality and noise are among typical resident concerns the consultant will address in a report to the county ‘‘in the next couple of months,” Bowring said.

‘‘We are not against transit [and] we aren’t asking them to move the facility,” Peek said. ‘‘What prompted this was the noise and soot and general quality of the air in the neighborhood.”