County commissioners in Riverside are reviewing a permit for a gravel pit mine planned for just south of Temecula. The operation of this quarry will include the blasting of crystalline silica dust into the air. The wind blows directly from the proposed quarry site into Temecula, where about 30,000 children play on playgrounds and where thousands of people with chronic health conditions live. Crystalline silica contains particles so small that they get into the part of our children’s lungs where oxygen enters the blood.
As a pediatrician, I am concerned about children with asthma and premature babies with fragile lungs. This is why I joined local physicians in voicing my concerns about this project. I am not opposed to gravel quarries, just those that operate close to regions with large and dense populations.
There are now over 90 local physicians in our group. Among us are pediatricians, pulmonologists, cardiologists, oncologists and internists. We are concerned because of the overwhelming evidence that air pollution harms our patients.
With the release of the draft environmental impact report (DEIR), our concerns are validated. The DEIR states that there will be unavoidable impacts on air quality if this quarry is permitted. Granite Construction paid for this report and does not dispute this fact.
I personally reviewed the DEIR, and in my opinion it underestimates the impacts on air quality. I have submitted hundreds of questions about the DEIR to the planning commission. The planning commission has also received hundreds of comments from other groups, including San Diego State University and the City of Temecula. The County of Riverside will have to revise the DEIR and include answers to our questions before a final report is generated.
One of my concerns is that the DEIR uses average wind speeds on the sixth windiest day of the year as the starting point for estimating air quality impacts. If asthmatic children are exposed to dusty conditions for only an hour, they may have an acute asthma episode. So, what are we supposed to do, keep our kids inside during the windiest days of the year or during peak wind gusts? As asthma is one of the leading causes of absenteeism from schools, are we supposed to close schools during those days? With the lack of hospital beds in town, where are these children going to go for care?
There are numerous other ways in which the DEIR underestimates the problem, but even in its current form, it clearly states that there will be unavoidable impacts in air quality.
I would like to thank the over 90 physicians who have taken a stand on this public health issue. You are courageous advocates for your patients, and now you have even more evidence on your side. Eventually, this issue will go before the Riverside County Board of Supervisors. I hope that they will listen and understand.
If you are interested in this issue, check out http://www.sos-hills.org, and consider donating. If you are a local business or a local physician and want to voice your opposition, fax a brief statement to (951) 506-4497 and you will be included in future publications.
Dr. Daniel Robbins
Fellow, American Academy of Pediatrics
Department of Pediatrics Chairman, Southwest Healthcare System, 2010-2012
Staff member, Palomar Medical Center
Staff member, Rady Children’s Hospital of San Diego
Lead physician, Temecula Office, Children’s Primary Care Medical Group, Inc.