Thursday, March 8, 2012

After pressure from local organizations and community, Long Beach port cleans up

Martha Beatriz Cota hastily travels by car, with the life of her year-old son in her hands. She is a young mother with no health insurance in search of a free clinic that will treat her son who as she would later find out was suffering from a severe asthma attack.

Cota herself has recently been diagnosed with asthma, she and her family are one of thousands of families in Long Beach dealing with asthma due to port and traffic pollution. Cota didn’t find out until her son was four-years-old that he had been dealing with severe asthma attacks. Although Cota didn’t know what was ailing her son she was already getting involved in her community and educating herself. “I became involved first for my son and now I stay involved for myself,” said Cota. She is a member of Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma (LBACA), and serves as a community liaison as well as member of the A-Team committee. As part of this organization Cota says she now has the opportunity to educate and share her experiences with others so that her community can also take action.

According to Martiza Dominguez, LBACA office manager one in eight children in Long Beach have asthma. Clearly asthma is a wide-spread issue in Long Beach due to traffic and port pollution and LBACA aims to educate their community about the causes and contributing factors of this problem, because as Cota puts it “the industry doesn’t pay, they want to make money, we [parents] pay.”

This cost for the community is approximately $18 million a year according to research by the Kreck school of Medicine of USC. Researchers studied Long Beach and Riverside, which have high levels of air pollution and large roads close to residential neighborhoods. In a press release from the USC Media and Public Relations department it stated the results also revealed that the total annual cost associated with a case of asthma was approximately 7¨–8 percent of average household income in both communities, which exceeds the 5 percent level that is widely considered sustainable for a family's health care expenses

The voices of LBACA have been heard and the Port of Long Beach has undergone a green movement in recent years. Since 2000 the port has been decreasing its negative effects on air quality according to Lee Peterson, media relations for the Port of Long Beach. “The communities nearest the port, environmentalists and the region in general pressured the ports to do something,” said Peterson. In 2005 the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners, a citizen panel overseeing the port enacted the “Green Port Policy.” In 2007 the Clean Air Action plan was underway and the ports approved the Clean Trucks Program “the goal was to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2012,” said Peterson “the program has cut truck pollution by 90 percent, simply by requiring that only 2007 or newer trucks can enter port terminals.” This is evidenced by the fact that cargo traffic only dropped 7 percent from 2005 to 2010 while 90 percent of truck pollution has been cut. The port which is one of the world's busiest seaports and a major gateway for trade has also made changes to its regulation of ships through it’s “Green Flag Vessel Speed Reduction Program,” and its infrastructure and in 2011 updated the Clean Air Action Plan “to seek further reductions in air pollution and health risks through 2023,” said Peterson.

Although, there hasn't been a significant cut in cargo traffic, emissions have decreased substantially. The ports' efforts come after pressure from local organizations and Long Beach community.

It’s important that the ports are looking ahead to find ways of further counteracting their negative effects on the health of the Long Beach community. The ports and LBACA may be facing new challenges as there is a proposed rail yard to be constructed between Long Beach and neighboring Carson. This rail yard proposed by Port of Los Angeles would funnel traffic form the 710 freeway to this area, but environmental groups argue that this may bring added pollution and potential health risks.

LBACA has partnered with several environmental organizations and healthcare providers to help families that may not have insurance and are in the same position Cota was in. LBACA is taking several measures to ensure their community is better equipped to lead healthy lives as well educate them about the health of their community. The ports are also putting forth an effort to support their local community’s health, these notions support Cota’s idea that “when your community is suffering, it is your responsibility to get involved.”

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