By Kate S. Alexander
The Montgomery County Council wants an assessment of the public health issues surrounding mega gas stations and coal tar before its committees discuss proposed legislation to restrict each within the county.
During a Tuesday briefing by Health Officer Dr. Ulder J. Tillman, the council asked Tillman to weigh in on the public health debate surrounding a zoning text amendment to limit large fuel stations and a new bill introduced Tuesday that would prohibit the use of coal tar as a sealant on pavement.
“This gas station issue is frustrating,” Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said. He said he expected to hear competing claims about the health impacts of large gas stations like the one proposed by Costco at its future site in Wheaton during a public hearing Tuesday night.
Costco’s station, proposed for the parking lot of its warehouse store, would have an annual volume of 12 million gallons per year within 1,000 feet of the Kenmont Swim & Tennis Club at 2900 Faulkner Place.
Members of the club and residents from the nearby Kensington Heights Civic Association argue that a gas station of its size poses an environmental risk, citing studies conducted in Greece and Spain, which concluded that if the gas station is built, the community would be exposed to an excess amount of benzene, a carcinogen that the studies linked to leukemia.
Costco consultants say carbon monoxide tests at the company’s Sterling, Va. gas station found levels well below Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and that noise and odor studies further prove there will be little change in the surrounding Kensington Heights neighborhood.
Tillman acknowledged that she had been asked to comment on mega gas stations but noted that her office is not equipped to make health impact assessments.
To answer the council’s request regarding mega gas stations, her office has reached out to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to confer on the issue and is awaiting an answer, she said.
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