Port-Related Pollution Sickens the Southland
The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are the single largest source of air pollution in Southern California. They are responsible for more deadly diesel soot and smog each day than all of the 6 million cars in the region. These air-borne toxins have significantly increased the burden of disease for many residents living in and around the ports. In California, pollution related to the ports causes cancer risk rates up to 20 times higher than applicable federal standards allow. Studies have shown that children who live near highways congested with trucks carrying goods to and from the ports are not only more likely to develop asthma in their early years, but also their lung development may be permanently stunted from exposure to traffic exhaust.
Doctors see the adverse health impacts resulting from port-related pollution on a daily basis in their practices. Pollution-related illnesses include: premature death, elevated cancer and heart disease rates, respiratory illnesses, adverse birth outcomes, and impairment of the immune system. Physician’s personal observations are supported by numerous studies documenting that residents living in communities adjacent to ports suffer from heightened levels of disease and death.
These realities require that we begin to clean up the air now by enacting and enforcing more policies and regulations that place public health on par with other interests such as the promotion and expansion of international trade.
The creation of jobs is always cited as an outcome of expanding our international trade agreements and port infrastructure. But what type of jobs will be created from further expansion at the port of LA or Long Beach? Will they pay a living wage? Will local communities receive first dibs on job opportunities? Will these port-related jobs provide health insurance for employers and their families?
Additionally, how will port expansion impact the health of the surrounding communities? (The estimated annual impact on California’s economy of the ports and the goods movement is $19 billion and includes costs associated with hospitalizations, treatment for major illnesses and premature deaths.)
To date, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the shipping industry and manufacturers have yet to answer these questions. The question that has been answered is whether the public’s health will be sacrificed for the promotion and expansion of international trade. The answer is a resounding YES.
In November of 2006, Long Beach and Los Angeles Ports adopted the San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) to rein in port-related air pollution by at least 45% within the next five years. Unfortunately, implementation of vital elements of the CAAP has lagged far behind the timeline set forth in the original plan. By the spring of 2007, they were to adopt pollution reduction standards that would commit the ports to reducing air pollution to levels that would help attain clean, healthy air. These standards have still not been adopted. Despite the continued approval of port expansion projects that will increase the number of dirty-diesel trucks, trains and ships emitting toxic soot in communities throughout southern California.
If local leaders continue to prioritize growth without looking at how we are growing, whether it is sustainable, and who is benefiting, our communities’ health will continue to suffer and worsen.