Dear Editor:

A not so funny thing happened on the way to a safer and healthier town for children and their parents who live in or visit Decorah. 

Three years ago an effort was started to curtail idling of diesel engines within the city limits of Decorah, and provide a truck route around Decorah for those trucks which were not based in Decorah or which didn’t have a Decorah delivery to make. This effort was started because the science and medical understanding of the negative health effects of particulates from diesel exhaust, and antibiotic resistant organisms coming from animal confinements and their equipment and trucks, for humans, especially children, is now well understood and not disputable.

Although we had given this information to the city, it was two years before it was taken up by the Street Committee. And even then, it was apparent that some of the committee members had not taken the time to even read about what we were asking for, or read the information packet we had supplied to justify the idling ordinance and truck route request.

A year ago we were pleased that four members of the City Council, Andy Carlson – Dan Bellrichard – Kirk Johnson – Steve Luse, were taking the request and the information that we had given them seriously, and also subsequently voted for the idling ordinance portion of the request.

The information packet given to the city included, among other items, 156 peer-reviewed journal studies focused exclusively on the impacts of diesel exhaust and particulate matter on the brain. And, an additional 116 research-based reports, government reports, and related research focused on a multitude of other negative impacts on health by traffic-related air pollution and by diesel exhaust. The exhaust particles bypass the blood-brain barrier and go directly from your nose to your brain. 

The idling section also included research that is focused on solutions to the problems identified in the research, such as local government and state efforts to control diesel emissions (many city idling ordinances were included as examples), and solutions to mitigate the impact of traffic-related particulate matter (including native prairie planting as it mitigates diesel exhaust particles).

Antibiotic resistant organisms, including MRSA, are such a big problem in hog and other confinement systems, that the FDA has recently enacted a new program, the Veterinary Feed Directive, to try to address that issue. Confinement bio-security systems cannot keep these antibiotic resistant organisms inside the confinement buildings so that they won’t negatively affect human health. Antibiotic resistant organisms infect at least 2 million and kill at least 23,000 Americans every year (CDC numbers).

As part of the truck route packet we gave the city 297 peer-reviewed research studies, 38 research-based reports by government agencies, by independent, non-industrial organizations, or by university researchers, and 43 media articles, in these areas: detection of MRSA in livestock, particularly swine; links between human exposure to pigs and human MRSA colonization/infection; MRSA in meat products; spread of swine MRSA and antibiotic resistance to humans and wildlife through field application of pig waste, and via air transport; the role of antibiotic use by CAFOs in developing antibiotic resistance; other antibiotic-resistant pathogens resulting from agricultural use of antibiotics; and, risks to humans posed by MRSA colonization. 

In the city of Decorah, we have trucks and stock trailers traveling on Water Street filled with confinement pigs and their waste. We have trucks that transport feed to confinements traveling up and down Water Street. We have known since the 1976 Levy study that antibiotic resistant organisms move easily from confinement animals to farm families and workers, and neighbors of those confinement farms. 

We have known since the 2008 Johns Hopkins “Food Animal Transport” study that antibiotic resistant organisms blow off of trucks transporting confinement animals, and trucks that go to and from confinements. Those organisms settle on everything on and by the roads including sidewalks. If we know this, and if Decorah has become a tourist destination with many of us, and many tourists, eating and drinking and sitting on Water Street, or walking up and down Water Street shopping, why wouldn’t we enact a truck route to keep those trucks and stock trailers and their antibiotic resistant organisms from needlessly driving through town?

It seems that the mayor, Don Arendt, and council members, Gary Rustad (who by the way wants to be mayor), Chuck Lore, and Randy Schissel are confused in their understanding of what is more important: human health, or the ability of some businesses to pollute, spread disease, and travel needlessly where they don’t need to be. 

Because of the mayor’s veto, the idling ordinance will have to wait until there is a new mayor to be brought up again. The truck route portion of our initial request is due to come before the city council Monday, March 20th. You should come to that meeting as it will be interesting to see who votes for the truck route resolution that night. And, to see if there is another mayor’s veto in the wings. 

If you value a healthy and clean place to live in, you might want to take an interest in these issues. And, you might want to educate yourselves as to who holds your and your children’s health more important than allowing some businesses to pollute. The ballot box is where you have the most influence. You might want to remember who votes for what when the elections come around.

If you would like an electronic version of the Truck Route and Idling Packet that was given to the city, the city council, and the mayor, contact Bob Watson , or Dick Janson . The city also has the electronic version of that packet and could send it to you. And, there are numerous downtown business people who have the electronic version of the packet and would share it with you.

Rural Bob Watson

and Dick Janson, Decorah