Open letter to Superintendent Starr and the Board of Education

Why the silence from MCPS on the siting the Costco fueling station?

Open letter to Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent, Mr. Joshua Starr, and Members of the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education:

There is a matter of great concern I need to bring to your attention, though I suspect you are already aware.  Costco Corporation has submitted a Special Exception application (S-2863) for the construction of a filling station on the Wheaton (MD) Westfield Mall property less than 1000 feet from MCPS’ Stephen Knowles School, a special needs school which serves a medically fragile student body between the ages of 5 and 21.

This filling station is like no other in Montgomery County.  To put it in perspective, Costco estimates 12 million gallons of fuel will be dispensed per year compared with 1-3 million gallons for a typical filling station.  That translates to roughly 33,000 gallons per day or 2100 gallons per operational hour (15.5 on weekdays).  Assuming an average fill-up of 13 gallons per vehicle, this particular fueling station would service 160 vehicles per hour.   If a vehicle requires 7 minutes to complete the fueling process at one of the 16 pumps, then, on average, 30 vehicles will be idling in queue.  If you view the Google map of the Costco filling station in Sterling, VA, you will count 49 vehicles idling in queue with 16 vehicles fueling; not an usual number for any of the Costco filling stations in the DC area.

The danger of vehicle emissions is made evident in national and international medical and scientific publications.  Armed with this knowledge, jurisdictions around the country are banning vehicle idling around sensitive populations including schools. 




On top of the idling vehicle emissions, Costco acknowledges that each day dozens of delivery trucks (primarily diesel fueled) will visit the store’s loading dock also less than 1000 feet from the school.  And, at least 4 gasoline tanker trucks per day will be required to replenish the underground storage tanks: arriving at all hours and parking adjacent to the filling station.

On the most recent American Lung Association (ALA) State of the Air report (2012), Montgomery County received an “F” for ozone.  (http://www.stateoftheair.org/2012/states/maryland/montgomery-24031.html)

According to the ALA, “Children’s lungs are still developing until they reach maturity. Children and teens can be more active when they are outdoors, so they may inhale more pollution. Children face greater risk of infection, coughing and bronchitis from air pollution. They may even suffer from lower lung function, putting them at greater risk of lung disease as they age.” 

As defined in a report from the U.S. EPA Office of Mobile Sources,  “Ozone is a severe irritant. It is responsible for the choking, coughing, and stinging eyes associated with smog. Ozone damages lung tissue, aggravates respiratory disease, and makes people more susceptible to respiratory infections. Children are especially vulnerable to ozone’s harmful effects, as are adults with existing disease. But even otherwise healthy individuals may experience impaired health from breathing ozone-polluted air.” (http://www.epa.gov/otaq/consumer/04-ozone.pdf).  The EPA further asserts, “The only way to ensure healthy air is to markedly reduce our use of cars or to switch to fuels that are inherently cleaner than conventional gasoline.

Why should this matter to the Superintendent and Board of Education?  MCPS assumes responsibility for the health and safety of its students while they are present on school grounds.  Students and parents have a reasonable expectation that MCPS takes this responsibility seriously by identifying and correcting any threats to health and safety on school property.   Based on my visual survey of all 200+ MCPS schools, I have found just one other school in such close proximity to a filling station, Quince Orchard H.S. – the Shell station at the corner of MD Rte 28 and MD Rte 124.  This, of course, is not a 12 million gallon per year station and it is located at the intersection of two State roads.   The Costco fueling station at Westfield will be located on two-lane ring road on the mall property: no comparison to the above.  I’m fairly certain that there is a good reason that schools are not routinely located adjacent to fueling stations – they do not belong next to a source of hazardous air pollution.

In my research, I found that School Board member Shirley Brandeman sat on the Task Group of the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee to review the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s School Siting Guidelines (http://www.epa.gov/schools/siting/download.html), indicating to me Ms. Brandeman’s (and perhaps MCPS’) sincere interest in protecting school children from environmental hazards around school property.  The guidelines specifically mention fueling stations in Exhibit 6, Page 59, “Identify and evaluate gas stations and other fuel dispensing facilities within ~1,000 feet of prospective school locations.”  This guideline defines a large gas station as more than 3.6 million gallons per year, just over one-third of the size of the Costco filling station.  And yet both the School Board and Superintendent have been conspicuously silent as far as the siting of the Costco filling station less than 1000 feet from Stephen Knolls School, a special needs school.

Mr. Superintendent and members of the School Board, please help me understand why both MCPS and the Board have been mum on the issue.  I can guarantee that I am not alone in forming an opinion of what may be at the root of your silence.  Personally, I would hate to think that private development (Costco gas is for Costco members only so it isn’t a public good) is taking precedence over the health and safety of students, faculty, and parents at a public school in Montgomery County.

In strongly believe it is a dereliction of duty for the Superintendent and School Board not to weigh in on this pressing matter.   I expect to hear either privately or preferably publically from both, or will assume that the health and safety of school children in Montgomery County Maryland are unimportant to you.


Laura Kervitsky

Kensington, Maryland

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Sam Campbell January 12, 2013 at 07:38 PM
Thank you for speaking up on behalf of our school. Our students deserve a a safe and healthy environment. Our parents are pulled in so many directions that adding another "to do" item is overwhelming, so participating in this battle takes a back seat to the daily care of our medically fragile children. Our childrens' health is compromised enough, we don't need to add to their existing health issues. Shame on Costco for valuing business over the health of our disabled students. We have children on oxygen, ventilators and receive a host of medications. We will take all the help we can get to prevent this mega gas station from being built near our school. Sam Campbell PSA President, Stephen Knolls School
Lara Akinbami January 12, 2013 at 09:43 PM
Please, MCPS, defend the right of some of the County's more vulnerable children to attend school is a safe, healthy environment. MCPS would never place a school next to such a hazard. Likewise, MCPS should be one of the primary stakeholders opposed to placing such a hazard next to a school.
Molly Hauck January 12, 2013 at 10:07 PM
Thank you for this important and informative letter, Laura. I too wonder why MCPS is not opposing the Costco gas station. I also wonder why Stephen Knolls School is not allowed to publicize this dangerous possibility and why Costco is allowed to talk freely about the situation. Even though I live several miles from the proposed gas station, I am also concerned about the environmental impact of the fumes on Sligo Creek and the Anacostia River. I also wonder how far the fumes will go and how many people will be affected by them. We are already submitted to many other sources of air pollution (car exhaust, coal fired power plants, and toxic fumes from cleaning products) and water pollution (stormwater runoff). We don't need any more. Molly Hauck, Kensington, MD.
Charles Waltemath January 12, 2013 at 11:08 PM
Who has denied the Principal and President of PSA the right to inform parents of the students about this issue? Even Costco should not be allowed to dispense with the First Amendment.
Joseph Horgan January 13, 2013 at 05:26 PM
Thanx, Laura. I'm posting this on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/jobuntu) with contact data for the Board and Superintendent StarrStarr.


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