Transcript for the Piece Audio version of Quest_Port Pollution
Ambi: truck.. Look at that truck!
Swati Prakash is standing on the corner of Fifth Street and Henry in West Oakland, about a quarter mile from the Port.
PRAKASH That truck?s got to be at least 15 or 20 years old. It?s just billowing clouds of black smoke.
Prakash works for the Pacific Institute, a non-profit advocacy group in Oakland. It?s one of several groups looking at how Port activity affects the health of people who live nearby.
Ambi: truck passes?
PRAKASH Well the Port of Oakland moves nearly 3 million containers per year. And there?s three and a half million truck trips that come through the neighborhood and on and off the port, every year.
The Port is a huge economic force for the city and the state - it employs 28,000 people and generates about 200 million dollars in state and local taxes. But all those trucks, tugboats, trains and ships, operate at a cost. Residents here in west Oakland are exposed to five times the amount of diesel soot than in other parts of the city.
PRAKASH you have a set of neighborhoods that are really paying very high health costs and are not necessarily economically speaking reaping the benefits.
Diesel soot can cause cancer, and it?s also contributes to West Oakland?s high asthma rates. Children living near Oakland?s Port and several nearby freeways are hospitalized for asthma more often than anywhere else in California.
Ambi: lakeesha Paul?s house
In the living room of her ground floor apartment in West Oakland, Lakeesha Paul watches her son, DeVaughn, take a puff from his asthma inhaler.
PAUL Suck it up real hard .. puff.. And he has to count to ten, he has to hold it, then take another one, and then he has to just wait.
That inhaler, along with pills, a special diet, and other measures keep deVaughn?s asthma in check, but Paul wants more for her son.
PAUL You know, you want your child to play sports. And he can?t really play sports for too long, because he has to take a rest, take his pump and everything, catch his breath, make sure he doesn?t feel lightheaded. Everything?s ok with him, it?s just the asthma that?s the part that?s just keeping him back right now.
According to the California Air Resources Board, diesel pollution causes some 2400 premature deaths a year, at a cost of about 19 billion dollars annually in lost productivity and heath care expenses.
fade up traffic ambi from west oakland
What?s frustrating to health advocates like Swati Prakash is that much of that is preventable.
PRAKASH We have the technology to clean up diesel pollution. It?s a matter of priorities a matter of being willing to basically say that the health of communities, and California residents is as important as the profit that?s being made.
Diesel fuel has already gotten much cleaner, thanks to 2006 laws banning the use of high-sulfur diesel blends.
Ambi: bring up trucks starting
New trucks burn far cleaner than the old ones do, and there are filters out there to make them even cleaner. But few truckers can afford those filters. And while the Port has helped purchase 75 new trucks, that?s just a fraction of the thousands or so that drive to the port each day.
And then there?s the ships.
PRAKASH Well ships run on bunker fuel which so the dirtiest and cheapest fuel out there, basically. And it has a huge sulfur content, when you burn it creates extremely toxic pollution and it?s a huge problem, especially for workers.
Here in Oakland, ships keep their engines running the entire time they?re docked. The Port gets almost 2,000 ships a year - altogether, that?s as much diesel pollution as you?d get from almost three thousand trucks idling constantly, year round.
Fade out traffic ambi
Earlier this month, a group of non-profts sued the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to force ships to burn cleaner fuels. The EPA wants to work toward international shipping standards, but activists say that could take years, and United States should set its own, tougher standards.
In August, Senator Alan Lowenthal from Long Beach - home to the country?s second largest port -- proposed a $30 per container fee to benefit local communities. But after opposition from the governor?s office and stores like WalMart and Target, he withdrew it. Standing outside the Port on a recent windy afternoon, spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said that Port is willing to make changes - but only if everyone else does, too.
SANDIFUR You want to be on a level playing field. You don?t want to see rules different in different states, because that puts you in a position where you might be in a competitive disadvantage.
One thing for sure is that all of these questions will loom even larger, as Californians and the rest of the country keep up our appetites for cheap, imported goods.
SANDIFUR What the exports tell us is that the amt of goods will increase that are moving? and we anticipate at least doubling. So we really have to be able to deal with it.
Meanwhile, California is considering a raft of proposals to clean up the ports, including an expensive plan to let ships plug into power - and turn off their engines -- while they?re docked.
For Quest, I?m Amy Standen, KQED Radio NewsBack