For a brand new WMRA collection referred to as My World, earlier this yr we requested native science college students to submit their questions concerning the surroundings. We acquired quite a lot of nice questions, and chosen one from Olivia Gardner, who simply graduated in June. She requested concerning the environmental well being of Interstate 81. WMRA’s Bridget Manley produced a two-part report. Right here’s Half One.
[Cars and trucks driving by….]
Interstate 81 is without doubt one of the most vital and most-traveled north-south highways on the east coast. With greater than 325 miles between the state borders at West Virginia and Tennessee, I-81 cuts by way of 21 cities and cities, 25 faculties and universities, and 13 counties in Virginia alone.
That prompted this query from Olivia Gardner, who simply graduated from Riverheads Excessive Faculty in Augusta County to ask:
OLIVIA GARDNER: Since our college is so near Interstate 81, I usually surprise, what impact does Interstate 81 have on the environment within the valley?
ANDREW ALDEN: Nicely, primarily you’re water high quality, air high quality, after which issues like nuisance points or high quality of life points like noise. And I’d say by far the most important influence that’s of concern is air high quality.
Andrew Alden is the Govt Director of the Interstate 81 Hall Coalition. He says that the most important menace to the surroundings and the individuals residing across the interstate are the particulates which can be emitted from automobiles, and the greater than 11 million tractor trailers that use the street yearly.
Particulates — or particulate matter — is the time period for a combination of strong particles and liquid droplets discovered within the air. In keeping with the Environmental Safety Company, they’ll get deep into your lungs and even into your bloodstream.
Dr. Bruce Wiggins is an environmental biologist and professor within the biology division at James Madison College. He says that individuals residing round busy roadways can expertise coronary heart and lung illness, bronchial asthma, coughing and problem respiratory.
BRUCE WIGGINS: It’s been proven that the extra of this particulate matter can get deep down into your lungs. The extra of that you simply breathe, there’s only a tendency for diminished life expectancy, you already know, general. So that you simply have extra stress, extra more likely to die. So it’s not something that anybody is simply going to keel over and die from, it’s extra persistent high quality of life factor that everybody is affected.
And people particulates have an effect on the whole surroundings. They will harm farm crops and forests, trigger nutrient adjustments in rivers and different our bodies of water, they usually can have an effect on the variety of ecosystems, in keeping with the EPA.
ALDEN: Though automobiles are a lot cleaner than they was, specifically automobiles — and later mannequin vans — are additionally a lot cleaner than they was. Diesel engines, and there are quite a lot of them on Interstate 81 as a result of there’s quite a lot of vans, they’ve an issue with small particulate pm-30 kind emissions that trigger issues. Significantly once they make their approach into individuals’s lungs. That’s actually the place the first environmental influence comes from.
And it doesn’t assist when there’s a main accident on the freeway. The I-81 Hall Enchancment Plan, launched by the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board in late 2018, reported that greater than 2,000 car crashes occurred yearly on the freeway. The report famous that was the very best proportion for any interstate in Virginia. And when automobiles are caught within the delays brought on by all these accidents, the idling engines emit extra particulates — and people particulates develop into extra harmful.
ALDEN: You already know, we’re affected by crashes and incidents that happen throughout 81. The identical ones that get us all indignant once we attempt to journey are additionally actually dangerous for the surroundings, as a result of you will have quite a lot of vans which can be stopping and beginning, they don’t seem to be working very effectively at low speeds, and so in lots of instances this congestion that happens is a results of both crowding or crashes. That’s accountable for lots of air pollution too.
Jim Ponticello is the air and noise program supervisor for VDOT. He says that whereas particulates, carbon monoxide and different air pollution brought on by automobiles and vans are all issues, Virginia and the nation have come a great distance in cleansing up emissions, and yearly air pollution charges go down in Virginia.
JIM PONTICELLO: You already know it’s vital for individuals to know that over the past 20 – 25 years, not solely have motorcar and gasoline requirements develop into far more stringent, which means a brand new automotive at present is effectively over 90% cleaner than a brand new automotive bought twenty years in the past, however the EPA has carried out far more stringent requirements on level sources, energy crops, business, and there have been quite a lot of native efforts and all this stuff mixed – federal, state, native – have actually contributed to a lot cleaner air high quality not solely in Virginia, however throughout the nation.
And after the Virginia Common Meeting permitted funding to broaden I-81 within the final legislative session, the query once more turns into how will the enlargement assist or harm the surroundings?
It seems, there are quite a lot of concepts going round for that as effectively.
Within the subsequent installment of My World, we are going to check out the way forward for Interstate 81, the professionals and cons for the surroundings of increasing the freeway, and a few intelligent concepts to make the interstate – and the well being of the individuals residing round it – higher.
About Olivia Gardner, who submitted the query about I-81: Olivia, now a graduate of Riverheads Excessive Faculty in Augusta County, was a pupil in Courtney Hallacher’s Superior Environmental Science course in Spring 2019. Olivia was president of the Environmental Science Membership at Riverheads. She’s at the moment enrolled at Blue Ridge Neighborhood Faculty (in sight of the Interstate!) for the Fall, and hopes to switch to Virginia Tech to pursue her curiosity in plant science.
Courtney Hallacher teaches science programs together with superior environmental science, ecology and anatomy at Riverheads Excessive Faculty.
WMRA may be very grateful to Olivia and Courtney for serving to us launch this collection. To submit YOUR query concerning the surroundings, ship a message to WMRA Public Radio on Fb, or ship a tweet @WMRANews.