At an open house at Patagonia High this fall, South32’s Hermosa Mine staff and their Westlands consultants revealed a map of their preferred exit route from the Patagonia Mountains that would bypass the town of Patagonia less than two miles from the center of town. It is ironic that they presented this map at the very school that may be negatively impacted. South32 is currently favoring a truck route that is within 2/3 of a mile from school buildings and less than a half-mile from the northeastern edges of Patagonia Public Schools property.
The property to the north of the current school along Highway 82 is the likely area for school expansion should a significant increase in the student body occur over the next quarter century. In short, the mine’s favorite trajectory for potentially hundreds of super-sized trucks or rail cars per week is perilously close to the school where the children of future mine workers might attend. In fact, trucks on the ridge across the highway from the school would conceivably be in plain sight and earshot of teachers and students most daylight hours.
There are three tangible concerns that parents and educators have raised – both for Patagonia Public and for the Little Red Schoolhouse— should the mine substantially increase truck traffic on any stretch on Highway 82 already saturated with produce trucks coming up from Mexico. These three concerns : 1) excessive noise from trucks or light rail cars; 2) additional dust and air contaminants; and 3) student safety.
Let’s look at noise levels, for anything over 30 decibels can affect child development, health and education. Over 20 studies have shown that heightened environmental noise near schools from trucks, planes or trains can gravely affect children’s capacities for learning and healthy development. Even sporadic spurts of noise can worsen children’s hearing, annoyance levels, sleep, emotions, cardiac function, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and psychological health. Many science organizations concerned about environmental health have warned about the hazards created by excessive traffic in close proximity to schools, parks, walking trails and playgrounds. These include the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Research Council, the National Park Service, and the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation.
With regard to increased exposure to dust and allergens, children in southern Arizona are particularly vulnerable to valley fever and other pathogens stirred up by bulldozing, grading and excavating near their homes or schools. Several kinds of respiratory diseases increase in school communities or neighborhoods whenever industrial or housing developments disturb large swaths of soil with a mile or so of the sites where children play.
Finally, increased truck traffic – especially near schools – is a serious safety hazard that many communities are struggling to reduce or eliminate. Truck drivers cannot always spot young children on foot or on bicycles, especially in dusty or hazy environments. Children are more vulnerable to being injured or killed by vehicles along stretches of highway where speed limits suddenly shift, near curves in the road or near vehicular congestion.
We urge all parents and teachers in Patagonia and Kino Springs to weigh in on their concerns about such health and safety risks before it is too late. Although South32 staff affirm that noise and dust prevention reduction studies will be done in Patagonia, there is a simpler, safer solution: Don’t increase truck traffic anywhere within two miles of any school. Children are a community’s most precious asset. No amount of ore or income can justify putting any of Patagonia’s children at further risk.