Recently, I put on my best headline-writing hat (once took a course w. an oldtimer Examiner copy editor) to come up with a slogan for Petaluma. I got to like Petaluma: Rivertown Gateway to Wine Country. We are a Rivertown; it’s wonderful walking around not just the Petaluma River Turning Basin but for miles along the water, walking our historic downtown and majorly, walking our pristine Shollenberger Park bird preserve and wetlands. But some of the Sonoma Cty. Supes just don’t get that. They prefer “Petaluma, Gateway to Asphalt Plant.” Yuck!

How on earth anyone calling themselves a Supervisor would decide to approve the appalling amount of diesel soot shot out by the 144,000 new truck trips estimated yearly for a new Dutra asphalt plant – right next to our treasured Shollenberger and Ellis Creek bird sanctuaries and nearby a new housing development – I just don’t understand. This is huge pollution we’re talking and that is without even considering the asphalt particulate that the Dutra “hi-tech” equipment would miss, adding those damaging bits of asphalt to the air we breathe when we walk Shollenberger as I do often.

Isn’t this the time in history when seriously cleaning up our act is urgent?!
I mean urgent. Hottest temperatures in history; LA at 115 degrees summer of 2010, rising sea level and filthy water in much of the world due to the pollution we’ve already added to our air. We need to reverse course.

And the need for another asphalt plant here? We have two operating in Sonoma County presently – running way below capacity. So no need.

What I believe firmly we DO need is common sense. You don’t add an ugly, asphalt and diesel soot spewing huge plant where you are attempting to lure tourists – obscuring the beauty and grace that is Sonoma County at its southern gateway, especially when this is Petaluma: Rivertown Gateway to Wine Country.

Whether or not diesel soot can be confirmed as the evil cause of childhood cancers or asthma isn’t the only point. California Assemblyman Jarad Huffman showed us small bags of diesel soot at a rally and warned about the dangers of particulate matter to lungs. We don’t know exactly how dangerous asphalt particulate is to growing lungs, to adult lungs but we know it is harmful. I can tell you diesel soot is very reactive for people with asthma. I have asthma and sweeping up some diesel soot from the sidewalk (used to live at E. Washington and Petaluma Blvd., site where large numbers of diesel trucks drive by) makes my lungs very upset. Sometimes takes four hours to clear – and I never know if all the particulate ever gets out. Am I a candidate for lung cancer because of this exposure? Very possibly. Do I get an asthma reaction? Yes!

Would 144,000 truck trips add dangerous levels of diesel soot to the air where we walk at Shollenberger and at the new housing development? I’d say yes – but then I’m not an environmental scientist.

Dr. Alice Brock-Utne at the Health Forum held by Petaluma Health Care District recently, said that we used to think people could withstand 60-70ppm of lead, but that now the “healthy” level is something like zero – and we don’t know what “healthy” levels of asphalt soot are, either. What we do know is childhood asthma affects way more children than when we were growing up – and a visit to the hospital for child asthma averages $6,000, leaving the child a likely patient for life.

At the last pass on a Dutra desicion, the Supes presented six new detailed documents too late for anyone to read them, then voted for the asphalt plant. Hopefully, since there was no public discussion and couldn’t be discussion of documents the public had no access to, lack of public notice will boot the final decision into the hands of a newly seated Board of Supes.

As we come to this new configuration of the Sonoma County Supervisors, I sincerely hope they will make the healthy choice – say NO to Dutra – and NO to “gracing” our Gateway to Wine County – with an asphalt plant!