EUGENE, Ore. – More than just the clanking clamor of rail cars hangs in the air over West Eugene.

“People feel like the air smells bad,” said Lisa Arkin from Beyond Toxics. “They feel like it’s heavy and gritty.”

“You can almost chew it, it feels like,” said Tom Musselwhite with the Trainsong Neighborhood Association.

“It’s kind of like sometimes – you know how you can smell wood? Like moldy wood,” said Alyssa Winstead, who lives near the railyard in Eugene.

Many residents of Trainsong and Bethel agree there’s a stench – and enviornmentalists said it’s coming from diesel smoke released by idling trains at the Union Pacific Railyard.

Arkin with Beyond Toxics said diesel smoke doesn’t just smell or taste bad. She said tiny particles are causing serious health problems for kids in the neighborhood. She said about 14 percent of kids in the Bethel School District have asthma, double the national average.

“We certainly think that’s one of the factors,” Arkin said.

National studies have linked respiratory problems, heart disease and cancer to diesel smoke inhalation.

No one has studied if people here in Eugene get sick more because of the smoke.

The potential threat is real enough to bring local political and environmental leaders together to see what’s being done to stem pollution.

In January, Union Pacific told city leaders the railroad cut emissions almost in half between 2005 and 2008. Now 75 percent of Union Pacific locomotives are equipped with pollution control technology.