EarthTalk: I am looking at possibly buying
a house that is very close to a gasoline station. Is it
safe to live so close to a gas station? What concerns should
I have? I have toddler and infant babies.
-- Ranjeeta, Houston, TX
stations can pose significant hazards to nearby residents.
Some of the perils include ground-level ozone caused
in part by gasoline fumes, carbon monoxide from car
exhaust, groundwater pollution from oil and gas leaking
into the ground or from leaking underground storage
tanks, and exposure hazards from other chemicals that
might be used if the station is also a repair shop.
© Getty Images
all the modern health and safety guidelines they must follow,
gas stations can still pose significant hazards to neighbors,
especially children. Some of the perils include ground-level
ozone caused in part by gasoline fumes, groundwater hazards
from petroleum products leaking into the ground, and exposure
hazards from other chemicals that might be used at the station
if it’s also a repair shop.
pollution is caused by a mixture of volatile organic compounds,
some of which are found in gasoline vapors, and others,
like carbon monoxide, that come from car exhaust. Most gas
pumps today must have government-regulated vapor-recovery
boots on their nozzles, which limit the release of gas vapors
while you’re refueling your car. A similar system
is used by the station when a tanker arrives to refill the
underground tanks. But if those boots aren’t working
properly, the nearly odorless hydrocarbon fumes, which contain
harmful chemicals like benzene, can be released into the
ozone levels can lead to respiratory problems and asthma,
while benzene is a known cancer-causing chemical, according
to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The quest to
reduce ozone levels has led the state of California to implement
a more stringent vapor-recovery law, effective April 1,
2009, which requires that all gasoline pumps have a new,
more effective vapor-recovery nozzle.
gasoline storage tanks can also be a problem. The U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that there are some 660,000
of them from coast-to-coast. Many a lawsuit has been filed
against oil firms in communities across the country by people
whose soil and groundwater were fouled by a gas station’s
leaking underground storage tank. In the past, most tanks
were made of uncoated steel, which will rust over time.
Also, pipes leading to the tanks can be accidentally ruptured.
thousands of gallons of gasoline enter the soil, chemicals
travel to groundwater, which the EPA says is the source
of drinking water for nearly half the U.S. If buying a home,
consider its potential loss in value if a nearby underground
storage tank were to leak. Gasoline additives such as methyl
tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), which has been outlawed in
some states, make the water undrinkable—and that is
only one of 150 chemicals in gasoline. Repeated high exposure
to gasoline, whether in liquid or vapor form, can cause
lung, brain and kidney damage, according to the NIH’s
National Library of Medicine.
or vaporized gasoline is not the only chemical hazard if
the station is also a repair shop. Mechanics use solvents,
antifreeze and lead products, and may work on vehicles that
have asbestos in brakes or clutches. Auto refinishers and
paint shops use even more potentially harmful chemicals.
today’s car-centric world, we can’t escape exposure
completely, because these chemicals are in our air just
about everywhere. But by choosing where we live, keeping
an eye out for spills, and pressuring the oil companies
to do the right thing for the communities they occupy, we
can minimize our exposures.
EarthTalk: Do zoos have serious programs to
save endangered species, besides putting a few captives
on display for everyone to see?
-- Kelly Traw, Seattle, WA
to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Species
Survival Plan (SSP) programs have helped bring several
endangered species back from the brink, including
black-footed ferrets, California condors and red wolves,
like the one pictured here. Other programs for lowland
gorillas, Andean condors, giant pandas and snow leopards,
among others, have not had such clear success.
© ucumari, courtesy Flickr
Most zoos are
not only great places to get up close to wildlife, but many
are also doing their part to bolster dwindling populations
of animals still living free in the wild. To wit, dozens
of zoos across North America participate in the Association
of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA’s) Species Survival
Plan (SSP) Program, which aims to manage the breeding of
specific endangered species in order to help maintain healthy
and self-sustaining populations that are both genetically
diverse and demographically stable.
The end goal
of many SSPs is the reintroduction of captive-raised endangered
species into their native wild habitats. According to the
AZA, SSPs and related programs have helped bring black-footed
ferrets, California condors, red wolves and several other
endangered species back from the brink of extinction over
the last three decades. Zoos also use SSPs as research tools
to better understand wildlife biology and population dynamics,
and to raise awareness and funds to support field projects
and habitat protection for specific species. AZA now administers
some 113 different SSPs covering 181 individual species.
To be selected
as the focus of an SSP, a species must be endangered or
threatened in the wild. Also, many SSP species are “flagship
species,” meaning that they are well-known to people
and engender strong feelings for their preservation and
the protection of their habitat. The AZA approves new SSP
programs if various internal advisory committees deem the
species in question to be needy of the help and if sufficient
numbers of researchers at various zoos or aquariums can
dedicate time and resources to the cause.
Conservation and Science Department administers the worldwide
SSP program, generating master plans for specific species
and coordinating research, transfer and reintroductions.
Part of this process involves designing a “family
tree” of particular managed populations in order to
achieve maximum genetic diversity and demographic stability.
AZA also makes breeding and other management recommendations
with consideration given to the logistics and feasibility
of transfers between institutions as well as maintenance
of natural social groupings. In some cases, master plans
may recommend not to breed specific animals, so as to avoid
having captive populations outgrow available holding spaces.
stories abound, most wildlife biologists consider SSP programs
to be works in progress. AZA zoos have been instrumental,
for instance, in establishing a stable population of bongos,
a threatened forest antelope native to Africa, through captive
breeding programs under the SSP program. Many of these captive-bred
bongos have subsequently been released into the wild and
have helped bolster dwindling population numbers accordingly.
Of course, for
every success story there are dozens of other examples where
results have been less satisfying. SSP programs for lowland
gorillas, Andean condors, giant pandas and snow leopards,
among others, have not had such clear success, but remain
part of the larger conservation picture for the species
in question and the regions they inhabit.
Conservation & Science Program.
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