Southern California air pollution: an environmental justice issue

Communities in Los Angeles that are situated in close proximity to oil refineries suffer some of the highest rates of asthma in California, along with a host of other ailments. "In 2015, data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show seven California refineries — three in the south, four in the north — were among the top 10 industrial sources statewide for both greenhouse-gas and toxic air emissions." 

Those most affected by the toxic pollutants and poor air quality caused by the extraction and/or refining oil tend to be working class, immigrant, low-income communities of color. What is it like to live under these daily conditions? What is California doing about this public health and environmental justice issue? In a new article, The Center for Public Integrity details California's complicated relationship with oil and the varied perspectives on new legislation that passed this summer that showcases California as a leader on climate change issues. Is it enough?

Amid the Los Angeles area’s worst smog season in at least 13 years, come new aggravations and anxieties. Andeavor — formerly Tesoro Corp. — plans to merge its Wilmington and Carson refineries into the biggest crude-processing complex on the West Coast. The $460 million project will involve, most notably, the construction of eight hulking storage tanks capable of holding 3.4 million barrels of oil. 

Meanwhile, state climate legislation endorsed by an unlikely amalgam of businesspeople, environmentalists, lawmakers from both parties and Gov. Jerry Brown has extended a market-based system of pollution-control that some fear will at best maintain the status quo or even make things worse for California’s most vulnerable citizens.

Asthma can be triggered by factors such as tobacco smoke, mold and diet. But decades of studies show an unmistakable tie between the respiratory condition and smog. A landmark investigation begun by researchers at the University of Southern California in 1992 found that early-childhood exposure to pollutants can have lifelong consequences, from diminished lung function to chronic absences from school and work.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, or AQMD, regulates air pollution in the 10,743-square mile South Coast Air Basin, which includes all of Orange County and urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. 

The basin’s dusky air — blamed for up to 5,000 premature deaths a year in one state estimate — fuels a growing indignation in places like Wilmington and Carson, where oil dominates, as it does in slices of the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley. The industry’s influence extends from city halls to Sacramento, forming a narrative that seems counterintuitive in a state known for its forward-thinking climate and public-health policies.

Read the full Carbon Wars article here >>

Last updated November 3, 2017

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