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For Some, Shipping Bottleneck Presages a Polluted Holiday Season – Mother Jones
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For Some, Shipping Bottleneck Presages a Polluted Holiday Season – Mother Jones

For Some, Shipping Bottleneck Presages a Polluted Holiday Season – Mother Jones


Cargo ships are lined up outside the Port Los Angeles to unload their cargo, February 2021.Mark J. Terrill/AP

This story was first published by Nexus Media News, a nonprofit news service covering climate change.

To describe the pollution in his neighborhood, Christopher Chavez appeals to the senses: “There are the days where you can see it, and then, there are the days you can smell it.” 

The 34-year-old West Long Beach native and environmental activist struggles to describe the acrid scent of exhaust fumes before concluding it smells like “port.” Lately, he says, “you can see puffs of black smoke coming from the ships constantly. All that stuff is getting into our air.”

In recent months, a record-breaking backlog of ships idling just miles from Chavez’ doorstep has released as much particulate matter as 50,000 diesel trucks each day, according to state regulators.  Long Beach borders the Port of Los Angeles (the busiest port in the United States) and the Port of Long Beach (the second busiest). They are just four miles apart. 40 percent of containersThat they can enter the country. 

Despite recent successes in reducing shipping emissions, these ports remain the most polluting. largest fixed source of pollutionSouthern California. Daily emissions exceed those of the region’s six million cars, according to state regulators. And that’s during normal operations, without scores of ships idling offshore.

Pandemic-related supply chain problems have slowed the flow goods into American homes, even though the ports are moving to. speed up operations. Many people think that delays in holiday gifts means that they will have to wait. But for Chavez, a local asthmatic who works for the Coalition for Clean Air and was diagnosed as a child with asthma, excessive pollution at the ports from trucking and shipping congestion raises concerns for his health and the health of his community. 

West Long Beach is a working-class, industrial area. largely LatinoA section of Long Beach is a city of almost half a million people. It stretches along the southern border to Los Angeles County. 

California officials discovered it has some highest concentrations of diesel pollution in the state, and elevated concentrations of PM2.5—a class of particulate matter linked to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer. 

According to a 2019 survey, Long Beach adults are hospitalized with asthma at a higher rate than in the rest California. community health survey. A zip code located near the ports has twice as many adult asthma-related emergency rooms visits than the state average. The city’s Black and Brown residents in particular bear the brunt. According to the survey Black Long Beach residents were hospitalized eight times more often with asthma than white residents and Latinos twice as often.

Air pollution is disproportionately affecting the poor and communities of colour in the United States. several studiesThis has been shown. A Union of Concerned Scientists study in 2019 found that Californians exposed to PM2.5 were 43 percent higher than whites and 39 percent higher for Latinos.

That exposure can translate to serious health complications—about 200,000 AmericansAccording to JAMA Open Network research findings, nearly a quarter of all people who breathe in air pollution die before the end of each year. Edward Avol, a professor of clinical preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, says air pollution has also been linked to kidney, liver, and nervous system problems. It can also slow down or prevent lung development in children.  Excessive exposure “can have lifelong consequences,” he says. “And we’re particularly concerned about those effects in children because they have such a long trajectory of life ahead of them—we hope.”

Chavez still remembers the fear he experienced when he began struggling to breathe as a kid. Growing up, he assumed asthma diagnoses were something that “just happened” To childrenbecause it was so common among his peers.

Jan Victor Andasan is a 31-year-old Westside resident who was also diagnosed with asthma as a child. Andasan uses they/them pronouns today and is an organizer for East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. They said that these health disparities led to deadly effects when Covid-19 swept through the neighborhood. 

Zip codes in West Long Beach saw the city’s highest death rates, which local health officials attributed to the area’s relative density, poverty, large household size, and high number of “essential” workers—including port workers. “We’ve had folks pass on because our bodies were already damaged and deteriorated as a result of various types of pollution—and one of those sites [of pollution] is the port,” Andasan told me. 

Over the past 15 year, both the Port of Los Angeles (LA) and the Port of Long Beach (Long Beach) have taken steps towards cleaning up their act. They have made it easier for ships to use cleaner engines as part of their clean-air plan.

Despite an increase of ships, the ports were able to significantly reduce their emissions. The Port of Long Beach was inaugurated in October announcedIt had already reached its 2023 emission reduction goals three years earlier than expected, decreasing nitrogen oxide production by more than 60%.  But the recent supply chain bottleneck is “negatively affecting these gains,” says Phillip Sanfield, a spokesperson for the Port of Los Angeles.

“We can’t draw an exact line to say that if [pollution] goes up this much today, tomorrow somebody is going to be sick,” notes Avol, the USC professor. He believes there is no doubt that higher levels of pollutants are associated with more health problems.

Ports can be used to reduce coastal emissions in the short-term. recently adoptedSanfield says a new queue system will require ships to wait longer offshore. Governor. Gavin Newsom has pledged to take an “aggressive” approach in demanding more federal funding to improve port infrastructure. The state has also entered into a partnership with the US Department of Transportation to fund port projects that “address equity and environmental justice.”

Chavez sees this crisis as an opportunity to look at greening the local economies. “This constant push and pull that you see between this notion of do we have clean air or do we have a strong economy—it’s a false narrative,” he says. “If we invest in our communities and we invest in clean technologies, and actively work on deploying these technologies, it’s going to create jobs.” 

Andasan hopes that all the media attention on the ports will draw more attention to the demands of the communities that carry the toxic burden. “As an organizer, when I sit in with officials, they tell us the economics of [the issue],” he explains. “This isn’t about money for us. This is about us wanting to live the best quality life.”


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