Félix Adeva literally lives with Repsol’s R lighting up the curtains in his kitchen. This 58-year-old from Madrid bought his apartment next to the Extremadura highway as an investment more than 20 years ago and did not give too much importance to the incessant activity of the gas station installed a few meters from the house. But 12 ago he moved there with his partner and the story is different. “You have to keep the windows closed because the smell of gasoline is intense and the noise is very annoying,” explains Adeva, who opens the kitchen door and says nothing more.
It is enough, the adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” is fulfilled here perfectly. From the balcony, stretching your arm a little, you could touch the tops of the workers dressed in orange vests who tend to the cars that come in to refuel like balls. pinball. “With the blind down I dampen the noise a bit, but this is continuous and now in summer it is much worse.” Little can be done about it, “except to try to live as well as possible.” The affected residents are hoping to bury the A-5, which could force the gas station to close due to the lack of customers. Pure guesswork.
“Gasoline has many volatile organic compounds that easily pass into the air and one of them is benzene, recognized as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization,” explains Marta Doval, a reference in the study of the impact of gas stations on quality from air. It is not a direct cause-effect relationship, but the scientific work in which Doval participated found that the pollutants found in the air near a gas station are different from those found in the rest of the city: they have a concentration of benzene up to eight times higher than those present in other areas.
The further you go from a gas station, the lower the benzene level
Marta Doval, engineer
“The further you go from a gas station, the lower the benzene level.” The researcher’s study ends with a conclusion: the pumps should be located, preferably, more than 75 meters from the homes, and more than 100 if they are places frequented by vulnerable people, such as hospitals, senior centers and schools. Distances that are not universal, since “will depend on many factors such as the size of the gas station, the number of pumps or the volume of gasoline shipped annually,” says Doval.
The engineering study on the impact of service stations on the nearby environment, Assessing the impact of petrol stations on their immediate surroundings, It is not the only one that has been done about it. The one published by the University College of London points in the same direction: “All simulations have shown the importance of controlling gasoline vapor concentrations, especially in the vicinity of pumping areas. In addition, it may be beneficial to design the configuration of the service stations in such a way as to favor the dispersion of the vapors and their rapid dilution through the air ”.
Also the one who carried out the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: “The emission rates recorded in the vents of the gas stations were more than 10 times higher than the estimates used to establish the distance at which the gas stations should be located. These distances should be revised to take into account temporal variability and contamination controls ”.
Or the study of Columbia University: “During the operation of the service station, unburned fuel can be released into the environment. Due to the toxicity of its compounds, we have developed a framework for estimating the lifetime risk of cancer from exposure to benzene that could be adopted by regulatory agencies to determine the distances at which service stations are located. ”. The WHO, for its part, through the toxicological review it published on benzene, “observes recommendations of good practices in relation to its location and design.” Although it does not specify a specific distance. And the list of research on the effects of gasoline benzene exposure on the world’s population goes on and on.
10 years have passed since the professor of the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering of the Polytechnic University of Cartagena published this pioneering study together with her colleagues and Doval still receives emails of citizens concerned about these facilities. Not only from Spain, but also from the US, Australia or Israel. “The problem is that there is no regulation, neither here nor in almost any country,” he adds. There are also no more studies that explain the effects of exposure to this gas on the general population. The WHO, through the toxicological review it published on benzene, “observes recommendations of good practices in relation to its location and design.” But it does not specify a specific distance.
Every time a neighborhood association contacts Doval, she replies with a letter addressed to the mayor of the town in question, urging them to move the gas station away from the residential area. It is seldom successful. “At present, many gas stations have been located in urban centers due to the growth of cities. Others may have been poorly planned from the start. With current knowledge, the new gas stations should be designed and projected in such a way as to guarantee minimum safety distances to safeguard the health of the population ”, the scientist writes in her letter.
Félix Adeva does not know that living near a gas station increases the chances of suffering from cancer, like many other citizens who live near pumps in Madrid. Half-aware of this scientifically proven fact, the neighbors coexist with kerosene without question.
But the district of San Blas-Canillejas, the neighbors do not stop fighting. They already did it 20 years ago, when they organized daily demonstrations to stop the works of a gas station that was being built in front of their building and wall with wall of the IES San Blas. Two decades later, from the fiery protest there is only the murmur of annoyance from the most veteran who still remember that defeat. Like Pablo Morena, 83, president of the Las Rosas-Las Musas neighborhood association. “When we saw that they did not stop her, the complaint was deflated. Now we call the police from time to time if there is a lot of noise, but little else, ”he says taciturnly.
Two years ago, however, protests by this neighborhood and private association managed to paralyze the works of a new gas station in the Rosas neighborhood for three months. A momentary relief, because the jets are now running at full throttle. “20 meters from the head of my son,” says a neighbor to give more signs. Between the streets of Sofia and Moscow, the gas station finished being installed in August 2020, less than 13 meters from the first houses where there is still a sign that denounces: Gas stations NO.
“We continue in lawsuits, we do not give up,” says Ángel Pérez, 63, who has lived with his wife and three children in the block since the late 1990s. “The City Council only tells us to file complaints with the District Board, and that’s what we do.” Meanwhile, when the tanker arrives to fill the tanks, they close the windows, “because there is no one to breathe inside the house, not to mention the lighting and noise.”
770 gas stations in the region
In the Community of Madrid there are 770 gas stations, 213 are within a municipality, according to official figures. The regulations for the municipalities to grant or not the license to gas stations is state, not municipal. “Almost all of them are already established in shopping centers and industrial estates, not in the streets of the city,” insist from the Madrid Urban Development area. The only reference to the distance that must be respected between these facilities and the buildings appears in Royal Decree 706/2017. Specifically, section 7.1.4 which establishes that the minimum distance between the dispensers and the property will be two meters. “However, for gas stations in the city, a distance of 17 meters is usually applied, which was a rule of a municipal gas station plan that existed a long time ago,” they say from the area.
This distance is not always fulfilled and many neighbors continue to mobilize. According to the FRAVM, there have been protests in Hortaleza, in Retiro (Centro) or in Butarque (Villaverde Bajo). Also in the region, in Velilla de San Antonio, in Getafe, in Villanueva de la Cañada or in Alcalá de Henares, with greater or lesser success. “Complaints are given to new gas station projects in residential settings, and thanks to neighborhood protests, numerous projects have been paralyzed, but once the gas station starts up things deflate,” they explain from the Federation. However, there are many lives in front of gas stations that do not make noise.
Neighbors like Adeva who literally live on top of a gas station without knowing the potential danger it poses to their health. “Benzene can also trigger dysfunctions in the reproductive, immune, cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine and nervous systems, even at low concentrations if exposure is chronic,” explains the scientist. There are no regulations that prevent it.
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