“Toxic Tour” highlights air pollution’s human toll

The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) is a nonprofit organization that has worked on social and environmental issues in the inland valleys of Southern California for more than 35 years. Recently, they invited IQAir and other clean-air advocates to join in a “Toxics and Solutions Tour” of some of the most polluted areas in the U.S.

The Inland Valley of Southern California

Once a rural region full of citrus groves, wineries and dairies, the inland valleys of San Bernardino and Riverside counties are now a cluster of rail yards, warehouses and distribution centers. It’s being transformed into what’s known as an “inland port.” To avoid clogging seaports, inland ports are created to warehouse and distribute arriving goods.

Unfortunately, the movement of goods to and from the nearby seaports of Los Angeles and Long Beach has created a public health crisis as a result of heavily polluted air. There are multiple reasons why:

  1. Goods are brought by boat into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
  2. Easterly coastal breezes blow pollutants from ships, vehicles, railways, refineries and manufacturing inland.
  3. The pollutants are trapped in the Inland Valley by the San Gabriel Mountains.
  4. Inland ports require up to 20,000 big-rig trucks to move in and out of the warehouses and distribution centers daily. This adds dangerous diesel particulates to already-polluted air.

To accommodate this flow of goods, warehouses in the inland valleys have been built close to homes, schools and community centers. With the warehouses come trucks – many, many diesel-fueled big-rig trucks. The exhaust from these trucks has dramatically increased the risk of cancer for those living near the highways and warehouses.

Toxic air in communities

One of the most impacted areas that was highlighted on the Toxics and Solutions Tour was the community of Mira Loma. The tour visited an intersection where as many as 800 diesel-spewing tractor-trailers pass every hour. Nearby, there is a small community of 103 homes – Mira Loma Village – whose residents have found themselves literally surrounded by industrial facilities. Sprawling warehouses sprang up so quickly that local fire department regulators could not keep up with the permitting. It all happened within three years.

A researcher began visiting Mira Loma in the early 90s to study the effects of air pollution on children’s health in Southern California. The decades-long study uncovered alarming information.

  • Children had stunted lung growth compared with children living in places with better air.
  • Teens who grew up in the polluted region showed a 10-12% decrease in lung function when compared with teens who grew up in “cleaner places.”

The Toxics and Solutions Tour also visited a nearby major San Bernardino rail yard. Located on the fence-line of residential communities, it is associated with the highest cancer risk of all rail yards in California. Freight trains run 24 hours a day with blaring lights, noise and ground shaking. The trains also run on diesel. CCAEJ partnered with a local university to study the health effects of the rail yard on residents living nearby. Among their findings:

  • Residents of communities near the rail yards experienced elevated rates of all cancers, including a 78% increase in lung/bronchus cancer among females living closest to the rail yard.
  • Forty-seven percent of children at an elementary school near the railyard had asthma or asthma-like symptoms.

CCAEJ efforts have had an impact

CCAEJ filed a lawsuit and was joined by then California Attorney General Kamala Harris to address the health crisis afflicting Mira Loma Village residents. A settlement was won, and all sides agreed that one of the priorities was to provide residents with state-of-the-art air purifiers. Having previously partnered with IQAir to provide clean-air technologies for schools and community buildings in nearby San Bernardino, CCAEJ again turned to IQAir. Dozens of IQAir volunteers joined CCAEJ staff to install two high-performance HealthPro Plus home air filtration systems in each of the 90 most-exposed neighborhood homes.

Although much work remains to be done, CCAEJ efforts have led to successes in reducing the impact of pollution in the area, including programs to mitigate the effects of air pollution on the most vulnerable populations. To learn more about CCAEJ and for ways you can use their models for success in your own community, visit www.ccaej.org.

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