Air Pollution In Southern California Remains Serious Issue Despite Decades of Progress – Part 1


Posted on 14 February 2012

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By Alan Kandel

Fine particle and ozone pollution, despite tremendous strides made in terms of filtering such pollutants from Southern California air, is still very pronounced, so much so that recent research revealed, “Southern Californians are among those at highest risk of death due to air pollution, according to recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research published in the journal Risk Analysis,” reported Bernice Yeung of California Watch.

“Among the most populated areas of the country, Los Angeles had the highest estimated rate of deaths attributable to air pollution, at nearly 10 percent; San Jose had the lowest at 3.5 percent, according to Yeung.

Part 1 of this two-part series examines steps made to clean up fine particle pollution at California seaports, particularly those in the South Coast Air Basin.

Particulates of Particular Concern Particularly Where State Ports are Concerned

On matters of particulate matter pollution, California ports are cleaning up their acts. That’s good news. In summer 2010, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) in conjunction with the California Environmental Protection Agency issued its August 31, 2010 report: “Estimate of Premature Deaths Associated with Fine Particle Pollution (PM2.5) in California Using a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Methodology.” In that report’s executive summary section was this: “Using U.S. EPA’s methodology, the estimated number of annual PM2.5-related premature deaths in California is 9,200 with an uncertainty range of 7,300 – 11,000.”

The number is not encouraging. And what one should take away from this is that far too many Californians each year are dying prematurely from exposure to fine particle pollution. The actual number notwithstanding, the picture is not a pretty one.

Here is how the report’s executive summary section opened. “The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (U.S. EPA) recently released ‘Quantitative Health Risk Assessment for Particulate Matter’ provides national estimates of premature mortality associated with fine particulate matter pollution (PM2.5), supported by its finding that the scientific evidence shows a causal connection between mortality and exposure to PM2.5.” ARB further specified, “The U.S. EPA risk assessment estimated premature deaths associated with PM2.5 nationwide, and in 15 urban areas including Los Angeles and Fresno. This report applies the U.S. EPA methodology to California on a statewide basis.”

Of Import at the Ports

California has some 14 ports in all. In August 1998 the ARB identified particulate matter produced from diesel engines as a “toxic air contaminant.” And it was a little more than a year later that the ARB began to focus considerable attention on the problem and sought to reduce this pollution by 75 percent statewide starting in 2007.

Then in December 2005 in another news release ARB announced, “ARB staff estimates that California has about 20,000 port or ‘drayage’ trucks that frequently visit the ports and rail yards and have the greatest impact on local air quality. Drayage trucks are a significant source of diesel particulate matter, contributing three tons per day statewide. With regards to the smog precursor NOx [Nitrogen Oxides], port trucks emit 61 tons per day.”

The agency in that same release further stated, “A 2005 ARB exposure study at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach shows that more than two million people live in areas around the ports with predicted cancer risks of greater than 10 in a million due emissions from docked ocean-going vessels. From that study and other data, ARB estimates that about 61 premature deaths per year can be attributed to exposure to diesel exhaust generated from ships in port.”

It is one thing that a corresponding risk to human health from such pollution around ports has been determined, it is quite another to try to significantly mitigate said risk. In regard to this, the ARB on December 5, 2007 announced that it was proposing new regulations to reduce particulate matter pollution spewing from diesel sources by requiring that not only trucks serving state ports but docking ships also, meet certain clean air standards.

“The first regulation requires operators of certain types of ocean-going vessels to shut down their diesel auxiliary engines while docked at the state's busiest ports in favor of using shore-based electrical power. The second regulation is aimed at cleaning up emissions from the aging fleet of dirty diesel trucks that hauls goods around the clock to and from ports and rail yards throughout the state,” the ARB announced.

This was in addition to strategies adopted by ARB “in December 2005 that require cleaner engines in cargo handling equipment and clean fuel on ships.” Estimates are such that based on actions of the measures combined, diesel particulate matter emissions from container and cruise ships docked at terminals will be reduced by 75 percent or “by 1,800 tons per year in 2014.”

ARB closed out its press release stating: “Long-term exposure to diesel exhaust increases the risk of developing lung cancer and respiratory disease, and can cause premature death.”

Forward Progress

Along with all the aforementioned, ARB in December 2007 adopted a drayage truck regulation, which at that time required upgrading of the truck fleet at the combined Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. Following this, in early September 2009, it was again announced, “ARB is allocating $45 million in voter-approved Proposition 1B funds to truck owners and operators looking to upgrade their fleets that serve the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach with cleaner models, with an additional $49 million in the pipeline. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the South Coast Air Quality Management District are contributing an additional $17.5 million in supplemental funding for alternative fuel replacement trucks.”

So what’s been some of the progress made so far now that corresponding mitigating efforts are in effect?

From the south coast region, the Port of Los Angeles released news last month touting that since the introduction of the Clean Truck Program (CTP) harmful diesel particulate emissions from trucks serving the San Pedro Bay ports have been reduced 89 percent.

“As a result of the progressive ban adopted in 2006 and enacted in 2008, 1,473 of the current drayage fleet of 11,772 trucks now serving the Port of Los Angeles will retire from port service on Jan. 1. That date marks the final leg of a phased-in program to replace all dirty heavy-duty drayage trucks serving the Port with rigs whose engines meet or exceed 2007 standards,” the news release revealed.

“The CTP has been a crucial component of the 2006 Clear Air Action Plan (CAAP), an ambitious, ground-breaking environmental undertaking that sought to cut pollution 45 percent from all port related sources – ships, trains, trucks, harbor craft and off-road equipment – by the end of 2011.”

And in the north state, as for the Port of Oakland, such emissions were slashed by as much as 50 percent, acknowledged Journal of Commerce Associate Editor Bill Mongelluzzo. The findings were determined based on a Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies study.

“Diesel particulate matter emissions declined by about 50 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions dropped by 40 percent since November 2009,” Mongelluzzo reported. “Trucks that meet federal Environmental Protection Agency standards for 2007 reduce pollution by more than 80 percent.”

Every little bit has helped.

In Part 2, the focus is on Southern California as the premature death risk in that region due to air pollution-related causes is among the nation’s highest, so indicates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through recently published research as so noted by California Watch reporter Bernice Yeung.

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Alan Kandel is a concerned California resident advocating for new, improved and expanded freight (and passenger) rail service. He is a retired railroad signalman previously employed by the Union Pacific Railroad in Fremont, California.