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INTERCOUNTY CONNECTOR

Highway a Health Risk, Protesters Say

"The vulnerability of children to air pollution cannot be overstated," said Benjamin Gitterman, center, a pediatrician who specializes in environmental health.
"The vulnerability of children to air pollution cannot be overstated," said Benjamin Gitterman, center, a pediatrician who specializes in environmental health. (By Katherine Shaver -- The Washington Post)
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By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Parents and students at a Silver Spring elementary school adjacent to the intercounty connector's route called on Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley yesterday to stop building the six-lane highway until the state better studies its potential health impact on people nearby.

The 18.8-mile toll highway between Gaithersburg and Laurel is planned to run about 100 yards from Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School's playing fields, protest organizers said. About three dozen parents and students who gathered at the school said the state hasn't done enough to ensure that children, particularly those who suffer from asthma and other breathing problems, will be safe so close to a highway.

Parents said they became concerned about the connector's proximity and its potential health effects after anti-highway activists held a meeting at the school in January.

"I always thought it was the government's role to protect the public's health and protect children," said Tiffin Shewmake, whose 9-year-old son attends Drew Elementary and has asthma. "I don't think that's really true anymore."

Benjamin Gitterman, a District-based pediatrician who specializes in environmental health, said asthma, which is the most common chronic illness in children, would only worsen near the connector.

"The vulnerability of children to air pollution cannot be overstated," Gitterman said.

Christine Hansen, a spokeswoman for O'Malley (D), said the governor has no plans to stop construction.

"The governor appreciates their concerns," Hansen said, "but the ICC has been debated for some time now and is moving forward in the most environmentally sensitive way possible."

Construction on the $2.4 billion road began last fall. It is scheduled to open in segments between 2010 and 2012.

Particulate matter, especially prevalent in the exhaust of diesel trucks, has been linked to aggravated asthma, decreased lung function and premature death for people with heart or lung disease and is especially dangerous for children and the elderly, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Valerie Burnette Edgar, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration, said the state met federal requirements in its study showing that the highway would meet federal pollution limits. She noted that a federal judge upheld that study in November when he rejected two lawsuits aimed at stopping the highway on environmental and health grounds.

She said a sound barrier would separate Drew Elementary from the road.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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