A handful of folk—some environmental experts, some local health advocates, some urban designers, some regular ol’ citizens—stood in the Century Villages at Cabrillo, a small neighborhood lining the Terminal Island Freeway. They were directly across from where BNSF Rail wants to build their massive Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) rail yard and just south of Hudson Elementary. As people chatted, a small, heavy contraption was passed around, a number on its facade that was continually bouncing between 23,000 and 35,000.
The P-TRAK was measuring ultrafine particulate matter (PM), the minuscule particles that is given off from the exhaust pipes of cars and trucks or carried by the winds from the pollution given off by port complexes, auto body shops, power plants, or factories or, or, or… The common range we want to aim for in order to prevent respiratory problems? Somewhere in the range of 3,000 particles per square centimeter.
When handed to me, I stared down at the number as a diesel truck roared by some 40 feet away: 33,800. Perhaps it was an unconscious reaction, but I coughed—and continued to do so. Walking over to a patch of foliage, the number then dropped again: 12,400.
It is one thing to know, through general environmental science knowledge, the effects of pollution, of the way in which the goods movement industry contributes creates incompatible land sources—that is, polluting to such an extent that the radius surrounding is unable to escape the pollution. This is one thing. Even with backing, the knowledge itself remains abstract and very “up here.” But when you stare at a quantifiable measure of just what is precisely happening every second in real time—and the fact that you’re breathing in tens of thousands of PM with every inhalation—I find it hard-pressed to not become overwhelmed.
While I am tempted to make a joke about my fellow gay guys jumping on a bus while playing Britney Spears and traipsing around the Long Beach, the Toxic Tour last week of Long Beach was anything but glittery. After all, California is home to more than half of the nation’s dirtiest cities—and Long Beach and Los Angeles are two of the worst, largely thanks to the fact that the two cities’ port entries are responsible for taking in more than half of the nation’s goods. Read more…