Addressing Health Concerns Over the 710 Freeway Corridor | KCET
Addressing Health Concerns Over the 710 Freeway Corridor
The I-710 Corridor Project, considered the largest infrastructure project in the nation, is a modernization of the freeway stretching from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the 60 Freeway. With the expanding global economy and growing impact of truck traffic on an aging freeway system, the need to improve existing infrastructure is crucial. While data has shown high levels of air toxins along the 710 that have been linked to various health problems, efforts are under way to reduce emissions and air pollution in the 710 corridor, the latest being a zero-emissions demonstration project that would test an overhead electrical catenary system, similar to a trolly for electric and hybrid trucks, for a small section of the 710 Freeway.
While planners are seeking community engagement throughout the planning process, community organizations are also taking it upon themselves to ensure that their voices are heard. Below, we hear from a health professional and an engineer with real concerns about the health impact of the I-710 Corridor:
A 12-year-old boy named Jimmy came to see me at a community clinic in southeast Los Angeles after falling at school. While taking his health history, I discovered that he was diagnosed with asthma at age 5. His mother mentioned that Jimmy is unable to play a full game of soccer because of his asthma; and when I listened to his lungs, I noticed poor air movement. Jimmy told me that he suffers frequent asthma attacks, which sometimes causes him to miss school. However, neither Jimmy nor his mother seemed very surprised about the school absences or his inability to be fully active.
That's because asthma has become a regular part of life for many in the disadvantaged communities where I practice medicine. According to the Department of Public Health, one in 11 children in Los Angeles County have asthma. African-American children have the highest rates of asthma (25 percent) compared to Hispanic children (8 percent) and non-Hispanic white children (7 percent).
Jimmy lives close to the 710 Freeway, a major transportation corridor for moving goods from the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. Air pollution from this freeway is a major contributor to asthma in Southeast Los Angeles; and children are most vulnerable. When Jimmy plays soccer on a field near the freeway, he is forced to inhale the exhaust fumes from the trucks rolling by.
Currently, Californians depend on trucks, trains and ships powered primarily by diesel fuel to deliver our food and merchandise. But the freight sector is California's largest single source of ozone-causing nitrogen oxide emissions and diesel particulate pollution. Movement of freight is also a major contributor to climate change, including emissions of carbon dioxide and black carbon.
Low-income communities experience the health impacts of industrial freight activity the most by being forced to breathe diesel exhaust on a daily basis in their own neighborhoods adjacent to highways, ports and rail yards.
As a physician, I look at the prevalence of a disease and seek ways to prevent it. That's why I believe medical professionals need to work closely with scientists and policymakers to battle pollution. Solutions exist to overhaul today's conventional freight vehicles into a low-carbon transportation system that cleans our air, improves our public health and helps us meet our climate goals.
According to a report released last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists and others, cleaner freight alternatives would reduce emissions well beyond today's cleanest diesel and natural gas trucks. More efficient engines, advanced emission controls and cleaner fuels can make conventionally powered trucks, trains and ships less polluting. Powering short-haul trucks with clean electricity would benefit regional air quality by dramatically reducing tailpipe emissions in communities most affected by truck traffic. For regional trips, moving goods by train and ship using the cleanest engine technologies would reduce emissions compared to today's cleanest diesel trucks, though any move toward greater rail or ship use must ensure the health of communities surrounding rail yards and ports.
Existing state policies -- particularly for freight transportation -- are insufficient to meet upcoming federal air-quality deadlines. An analysis by state and regional air-quality officials shows that we need about a 90 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions in some parts of the state -- including Los Angeles--to reach air-quality standards over the next two decades.
We urge Gov. Brown, the California Air Resources Board, and other state agencies to take all necessary action to transition to a more efficient freight system, one that relies on the cleanest alternatives. Given the scope of the challenge, a broad approach is needed to tackling freight pollution, including new regulations, expanded incentive programs, and a commitment to ensuring that new transportation projects cut pollution -- not increase it. For example, planned upgrades to the 710 Freeway could include a mandatory zero-emission freight corridor for heavy-duty trucks.
Transforming our freight system will provide cleaner air, a safer climate, and improved health for all of its communities. When that happens, Jimmy and the rest of us will breathe easier.
About the Authors:
Felix Aguilar, MD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine, and has worked more than a decade at community clinics in Los Angeles. He has participated actively in many campaigns on environmental health and environmental justice, including work on childhood asthma in minority communities.
Don Anair is research and deputy director for the Clean Vehicles Program in the California office of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) working on state and national transportation, air quality, and global warming policy. Mr. Anair is an engineer with expertise on fuels and transportation technology including light and heavy duty vehicles and freight.
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