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Wrigley Association hosts discussion on local air pollition

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wrigley-association.jpgBY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Staff Writer

According to studies undertaken by the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about 3,700 Californians die prematurely each year because of air pollution from the state’s ports and their freight transportation systems. Those studies also indicate that port pollution leads to 2,830 additional hospital admissions, 360,000 sick days for workers and 1.1 million missed school days for children in California every year.
On August 4, the Wrigley Association hosted a panel discussion that focused on the causes and effects of air pollution related to the activities of the Port of Long Beach. About 90 people attended the meeting, which took place in the recreation center of Veterans Park.
Panelists included: 7th District Long Beach City Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga; Rick Cameron, director of environmental planning for the Port of Long Beach; Jon Zerolnick, research analyst with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy; and Candice Sung Kim, representative of the Coalition for Clean Air.
Uranga, who also represents the 52 cities in Los Angeles County on the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), began her presentation by stressing that not enough had been done to solve air pollution problems since smog became a regional problem in the 1940s.
Uranga, who distributed copies of the results of the state EPA studies to the audience, noted that other recent studies conducted in the south coast district, which consists of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, showed that for every million residents who live here all their lives, 1200 will get cancer that can be attributed to air pollution. “This does not measure the noncancer risks which are probably five times greater,” she said, adding that about 94 percent of the air pollution in the region comes from mobile sources such as cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships. “Of course right here in Long Beach we have all of that,” she said.
Uranga explained that, as a whole, the region’s air quality has improved by about 15 percent in the last few years. “The bad news is that if you live in this area, it has not really gotten much better,” she added, explaining that people who live near the port or the 710 Freeway have as high as a 2900 out of a million chance of getting cancer. Uranga also stressed that studies undertaken by USC showed that the lungs of many children are irreparably harmed by the region’s air pollution.
Cameron spoke next, outlining the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports’ Cleaner Air Action Plan. The plan includes a “fuel incentive” program, which offers financial incentives ship operators if they switch to lower sulfur fuels once they get within 40 miles of the port. “We are hoping to get 100 percent participation by all vessels by next year,” he said. “We are not regulators, but we are trying to find ways to get the job done.”
Cameron also described the ports’ clean trucks program, which bans older trucks from the ports in phases over the next several years. Older trucks emit far more particulates into the atmosphere than trucks manufactured in the last five years. Cameron said the program is aimed at reducing cargo container truck emissions by 50 percent by 2012.
Zerolnick stressed that, while the ports’ goal of eliminating the most polluting trucks from local traffic was laudable, the clean truck program did not go far enough. He stressed that the root of the problem was the freight companies that hire independent truckers on a contact basis and pay them a fee for each container they transport rather than living wages and benefits.
He noted that most independent truckers that move containers take home only about $29,000 per year, often work 13-hour days, and must buy or lease their own trucks as well as pay for fuel, maintenance, repair and insurance.
“They are not independent,” Zerolnick insisted. “They work exclusively for one company at a time and that company controls and directs their work.” Zerolnick explained that it was unrealistic to expect that the approximately 70,000 so-called “independent truckers” who support their families on low-income earnings can afford to buy a newer truck for $100,000-$200,000.
He added that even if the federal and state governments subsidized the purchase of new trucks that would not provide a long-term solution to the air pollution problem. “The solution is to shift the responsibility to where it belongs,” he said. “Put it on the trucking companies.”
Zerolnick acknowledged that shift would increase trucking company costs, which would in turn be passed on to consumers. “But we are already paying that cost as taxpayers,” he said, explaining that tax dollars pay for emergency room visits and welfare programs designed to assist the families of underpaid independent truckers, most of whom cannot afford health insurance. Zerolnick added that local residents also pay a price in terms of the health problems they experience from breathing diesel particulates.
The only long-term solution according to Zerolnick is to require the trucking companies to buy their own trucks and convert the independent truckers to employees with equitable wages and benefits.
Sung Kim was the final speaker, and she focused primarily on the health risks associated with harmful substances present in diesel engine emissions. She noted that California has classified diesel exhaust as a known carcinogen. She explained that diesel exhaust contains more than 40 different harmful substances that are easily absorbed by the human body.
Sung Kim encouraged residents to pressure local, state and federal officials to enact legislation that would curb diesel emissions. She asked residents to write or phone the office of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger urging him to sign SB 974, a bill authored by Senator Alan Lowenthal. If adopted, the law would impose a fee on all containers passing through the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland.
The revenues raised would be evenly divided between infrastructure improvements and air pollution mitigation measures.

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Wrigley Association hosts discussion on local air pollition