Skip to content

Posts from the "Air Quality" Category

21 Comments

Some Thoughts on Near Roadway Air Pollution and L.A.’s Future

From Rob McConnell's presentation: air pollution spikes at freeways

From Rob McConnell’s presentation: air pollution spikes at freeways. Pollution levels drop quickly away from freeways.

I attended a forum event yesterday, entitled “The Collision of Best Intentions: Public Health, Smart Growth, and Land Use Planning.” Speakers focused  on “NRAP” – an acronym I wasn’t familiar with. NRAP stands for Near Roadway Air Pollution. It’s the study of pollution risks near freeways and other high-volume roads.

I confess that I have been only vaguely aware of NRAP. Years ago, I had heard about studies that show health issues correlate to areas close to freeways. I vaguely recall some efforts to keep schools at a tolerable distance from freeways. I am still not all that up to speed on this issue, so apologies if I have characterized anything incorrectly in this article.

The fundamental question that this conference explored was, basically: In the light of air pollution issues, is urban densification good for overall health? There are a number of corollary issues: On congested-polluted streets, is bicycling or walking healthy? Is Transit-Oriented-Development, or, more generally, infill development bad for our health?

For me, a car-free bike activist, these questions go to my fundamental core. Of course bicycling and walking are good! For me, for my community, my planet. I think that there’s a body of research that backs me up. Cyclists live longer than non-cyclists. Health benefits of cycling outweigh risks by 20:1, according to a London study. Inactivity is dangerous, in the long run. There’s also research showing that car occupants are exposed to unhealthy air quality inside cars, so, even if bicycling exposes me to roadway air pollution, I don’t think I am at any greater exposure than other folks using the road. And cyclists and pedestrians are on the edge of that pollution cloud, not in the thick of it the way drivers are.

I suspect that a lot of people make poorly informed decisions based on perceived risk. The most common example is that of the person who drives to their destination because they afraid of flying. Flying is, statistically mile-for-mile, way safer than driving.

I haven’t seen a clear study on this, but I tend to think that a similar ill-informed trade-off takes place with driving and bicycling. Replacing a perceived-dangerous ~10mph bicycle trip with a perceived-safe 50+mph car trip may well put a well-intentioned person at greater risk. Not bicycling in a polluted city, while instead driving in a polluted city doesn’t make good sense to me. My hunch is that it’s a similarly false trade-off, like driving instead of flying.

Back to yesterday’s forum.

From Rob McConnell's presentation: Asthma is worse closer to major roads.

From Rob McConnell’s presentation: Asthma is worse closer to major roads.

USC’s Rob McConnell presented on research that found clear relationships between proximity to freeways and rates of asthma and obesity. Apparently, historically, there was a general understanding that regional air pollution made asthma worse, but didn’t cause it. The current understanding is that roadway pollution causes asthma. Watch a similar talk by Rob McConnell here. McConnell also reviewed research linking NRAP with increased obesity.

These very real heath risks led researchers to investigate solutions. UCI’s Doug Houston spoke about a review of various structural tinkering to mitigate roadway pollution. Researchers have looked to soundwalls, sealed windows, taller building, vegetation, indoor air filtration, and more. Though those measures help, none of them quite solves the problem.

Read more…

1 Comment

“I’m a Teacher, I’m Pregnant…I’m Worried”: Residents Fume Over Lead Contamination of Soil in their Neighborhoods

"I'm a teacher, I'm pregnant...I'm worried," a woman tells DTSC officials at a meeting regarding Exide's lead emissions. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“I’m a teacher, I’m pregnant…I’m worried,” a woman in hazmat gear tells DTSC officials at a meeting regarding Exide’s lead emissions. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“If you don’t shut it down, we’re going to shut you down!” shouted a woman dressed in hazmat gear (above, with skull on her back).

She had just angrily paraded in front of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) officials, representatives of the Department of Public Health (DPH), and the moderator with her daughter, proclaiming that children should not have to wear protective gear to play outside.

One of the women standing with her moved towards a DTSC official waving a lemon from her yard and telling him to go ahead and make lemonade out of it.

The nun sitting near me appeared to say a silent Hail Mary and make the sign of the cross.

A young woman watching me scribble all this down furiously asked if I was press. She worked for Exide, she said.

“I bet you’re popular tonight,” I said.

The meeting at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights to update the community on embattled Vernon battery recycler Exide‘s lead and arsenic emissions was packed to the brim with residents of Boyle Heights, Maywood, Vernon, Lynwood, and surrounding areas. All of whom wanted answers about the lead found at all of the 39 homes where soil was tested at depths of between zero and six inches for contaminants, and none of whom were happy.

The confirmation that the homes and schools tested both north and south of the Exide facility had levels of lead in the soil that exceeded 80 parts per million — levels high enough to trigger further testing — while daunting, was probably not surprising to most. Read more…

8 Comments

Sen. Steinberg Proposes Carbon Tax on Gas Instead of Cap-and-Trade

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation Source: US Energy Information Administration via wikimedia.

Estimated effect of a carbon tax on sources of United States electrical generation Source: US Energy Information Administration via wikimedia.

CA Senator Darrell Steinberg proposed a change yesterday to California’s nascent cap-and-trade program that would replace next year’s cap on fuel emissions with a per-gallon carbon tax. Steinberg called it a “broader, more stable, and more flexible” way to reduce emissions from fuels than cap-and-trade.

His proposal would apply the revenue raised from the tax towards tax relief for poor and middle-income Californians, who would feel the greatest pinch from higher gas prices. That could help defuse anger at having to pay more at the pump, while still discouraging demand for gas. “Under either [program], consumers will pay more at the pump. That’s necessary,” said Steinberg. “If carbon pricing doesn’t sting, we won’t change our habits.”

CA Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Photo: Sacramento Bee

CA Senate President Pro Temp Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. Photo: Sacramento Bee

Reactions to Steinberg’s proposal so far have been mixed. The Western States Petroleum Association prefers it as “a transparent alternative” to cap-and-trade, and the Environmental Defense Fund criticized what it sees as a mid-stream switch that could “compromise” CA’s emission reduction strategies.

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, said ”we strongly believe that California is creating an excellent cap-and-trade program that is, and will work, effectively. Yet a carbon tax is an extremely clear and straightforward, and ultimately more predictable, way to approach the fuels sector.”

“If this had been offered as a serious proposal seven years ago, we would have thought it was heaven-sent,” he added. “I don’t think it makes sense to reject it outright. It’s certainly worth having the discussion” about cap-and-trade vs. a carbon tax.

John White of the Clean Power Campaign, a coalition of public interest groups working for clean fuels, says his organization has no official stance yet on the proposal. However, he said, “This is a good conversation to have. A carbon tax is a different way to do the same thing. The point of collection is also at the pump, but with cap-and-trade there’s no clear signal except for a higher price, and no predictability of what that price would be.”

Read more…

3 Comments

Vernon Battery Recycling Plant Sues to Overturn New Air Quality Rule

"God Bless America"? Really, Exide? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren't showered in lead and arsenic. I'm just sayin'... Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“God Bless America”? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren’t showered in lead and arsenic. I’m just sayin’… Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Exide Technologies – the embattled battery recycling facility in Vernon — has been given a lot of breaks over the years, but apparently they feel they haven’t had it easy enough.

Last Friday, they filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court asking a judge to set aside the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s (SCAQMD’s) recent amendments to Rule 1420.1. They were particularly concerned about their ability to comply with new rules governing arsenic emissions.

Specifically, new amendments to rule 1420.1 establish requirements for the reduction of arsenic emissions and other key toxic air contaminant emissions, set requirements for ambient air concentration limits for arsenic, as well as hourly emission limits of arsenic, benzene, and 1,3-butadiene (all known carcinogens), and contain additional administrative, monitoring, and source testing requirements for stack emissions at lead-acid battery recycling facilities.

The Governing Board of SCAQMD voted 10 – 0 in favor of these amendments this past January 10th in response to concerns over Exide’s repeated violations of emissions limits and the potential damage the exposure to the toxins could cause for more than 100,000 residents of Boyle Heights and surrounding communities.

The ruling came the same week that Exide both sent put out a press release boasting of a 95% drop in arsenic emissions and compliance with other air contaminant rule limits and was forced to cut production because it had once again exceeded lead emissions – the third such violation within 12 months.

Interestingly, Quemetco (located in the City of Industry), the other battery recycler affected by these amendments, has not contested the stricter regulations. Read more…

No Comments

Governing Board of the AQMD Adopts Amendment Imposing Stricter Emissions Controls on Lead-Acid Battery Recyclers

Concerned citizens, representatives of elected officials, steelworkers, and Exide spokespeople packed the last public hearing on Exide before the AQMD governing board. (webcast screenshot)

Concerned citizens, representatives of elected officials, steelworkers, and Exide spokespeople packed today’s hearing before the AQMD governing board. (webcast screenshot)

Se me murió mi señora, se me murió mi cuñado… yo no quiero que muera más gente. Esto es lo que pido de ustedes.”

“I have lost my wife and my brother-in-law… I don’t want more people to die. This is what I ask of you.”

The statement came from a visibly unwell Maywood resident named Marcelo Hernández.

Hernández was one of the many concerned citizens from Maywood, Vernon, Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Boyle Heights, and surrounding communities who attributed their cancers, asthma, learning disabilities, auto-immune diseases, and other chronic health problems to Exide’s history of excessive toxic emissions.

They, together with a number of representatives of elected officials and non-profit organizations, had traveled to Diamond Bar today to ask the Governing Board of the AQMD to both vote in favor of an amendment directed at curbing emissions from lead-acid battery recycling plants and shut the the plant down.

Some did it more humorously, with one man saying he was willing to take his clothes off to demonstrate just how ill his body was (Board Chair Dr. William Burke politely declined). Others pointed at the 14 emissions and notification violations Exide has had over the past 10 months — including the most recent one just last week which forced the plant to curb production yesterday — and asked if it was fair that they should have to endure those toxins on top of all the other pollution their communities already had to absorb. Almost all implored the Board to think about the health of the children and other vulnerable populations.

It appears they needn’t have worried. Read more…

5 Comments

Are Oil Fields Poisoning the Air Around USC? Residents Hope for Answers at Hearing Tonight

The oil field run by the Allenco Energy Co. sits nestled behind high walls along 23rd St. (Google map screen shot)

The oil field run by the Allenco Energy Co. sits nestled behind high walls along 23rd St. It is that blackened block just north of the athletic track at center. (Google map screen shot)

Standing at the gas pump, I was overcome with a sudden wave of dizziness and a blinding headache.

Because I only drive my car two or three times a year, putting gas in my tank is one of those typical LA past-times I am usually able to avoid. But on those rare occasions I do have to stop at a gas station, I am always shocked at the speed and intensity with which the gas fumes knock me on my arse.

“We really still have questions about the harm that can be done by fossil fuels…?” I asked my woozy self as I put the nozzle back in the pump.

My thoughts drifted to the active oil wells near USC (pictured above).

If I could barely stand to put three gallons in my tank, I wondered, how on earth were people dealing with living next door to a 2-acre oil field? Especially one where production had jumped by 400% to over 21,139 barrels in 2010 from 4,178 the year before?

As you might imagine, it hasn’t been that much fun for them.

Over the past three years, residents have lodged 251 complaints with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) about horrible odors, nausea, dizziness, headaches, nosebleeds, and respiratory ailments that they believe can be attributed to Allenco Energy Co.’s oil extraction activities.

And, lest anyone think their claims might have been exaggerated, several EPA officials that toured the facilities just this past October (in response to the complaints) reported being afflicted with “sore throats, coughing and severe headaches that lingered for hours,” according to Jared Blumenfeld, EPA Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. Read more…

2 Comments

The SCAQMD Hearing Board Will Receive Public Testimony on the Exide Battery Recycling Plant on December 14th. That Means You.

"God Bless America"? Really, Exide? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren't showered in lead and arsenic. I'm just sayin'... Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Really, Exide? Folks might feel a little more blessed if they weren’t regularly showered with lead and arsenic. I’m just sayin’… Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

While I sympathize with any of the good people of Irwindale that may have experienced heartburn, nosebleeds, or inflamed asthma because of a stinky Sriracha factory, I do have to wonder a bit about our priorities.

The last I checked, spicy-smelling air is neither fatal (egregrious asthma attacks aside) nor likely to induce neurological or other developmental problems in children.

Yet, a malodorous spice factory can be shut down within weeks of complaints being filed. This, despite the judge acknowledging that there was a “lack of credible evidence” that any health issues could ascribed to the odor and that the only real crime was that the odor appeared to be “extremely annoying, irritating and offensive to the senses, warranting consideration as a public nuisance.”

Meanwhile, the Exide battery recycling plant, which regularly exceeded lead emissions limits throughout 2011 (and again several times this year) and had higher-than-average arsenic emissions during 2013, remains open for business.

Nevermind that a few hundred thousand people living in Boyle Heights, Maywood, and Huntington Park may have experienced heightened and prolonged exposure to dangerous toxins.

In fact, just this past June, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin was so unmoved by documentation of Exide’s history of emissions violations that he felt obliged to declare that the plant did not pose “an imminent and substantial” threat to the community.

His ruling was in response to Exide’s petition to resume their operations after being forced to temporarily suspend them when the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) was able to show that, beyond exceeding levels of hazardous emissions (including arsenic), Exide’s underground pipelines — which carry up to 310,000 gallons of contaminant-laden waste water a day — were degraded and in violation of California standards.

The corporation, Lavin said in his ruling, would be in danger of “irreparable harm” were hearings to drag on while experts quibbled over the extent to which the public was at genuine risk from plant emissions.

Exide has been operating full-speed-ahead since then, minus a few glitches here and there, of course, because of…wait for it…excessive emissions.

Thankfully, the SCAQMD, fed up with Exide’s violations and rejecting their risk-reduction plan, is continuing to push back. Read more…

No Comments

Filed Under: Sort of Good News for Boyle Heights

Haven’t had a chance to get that pesky blood test done yet to see if you’ve got lead coursing through your veins courtesy of the Exide battery recycling plant in time to meet the Oct. 31st deadline?

You’re in luck! Of a sort, I guess.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the District of Delaware, where Exide Technologies is undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, ruled earlier today to extend the deadline by 90 days for residents who would like to file personal injury claims against Exide’s Vernon-based battery recycling facility. Claims are now due January 31, 2014.

The ruling was made in response to the request by State Senators Kevin de Leόn and Ricardo Lara that residents be granted an extension of at least 6 months to file injury claims. Ideally, the senators would have liked to have seen personal injury claims exempted from Exide Technologies’ bankruptcy proceedings altogether. As they noted in their letter to the judge earlier this month, this is a specific local health matter tied to this particular plant in the community (not a financial restructuring issue) and residents have neither the health nor legal expertise necessary to move quickly on claims.

Word is still slow in getting out to residents about the potential harm caused by the plant, given the inherent communication challenges in a community where many residents are recent immigrants and of a lower-income status. Moreover, as discussed here, the blood tests that the Department of Public Health is offering to up to a quarter million residents (to be paid for by Exide) only test for recent, not chronic, lead exposure and cannot definitively pinpoint Exide as a source of any lead exposure. Nor are tests being offered for arsenic, despite it being a known carcinogen and one of the emissions for which Exide has been cited. Read more…

5 Comments

Slow to Clean Up its Own Mess, Exide Demands Boyle Heights Residents Hurry Up and Submit Personal Injury Claims by Oct. 31st

In June of this year, Exide Technologies — owner of the embattled lead-acid battery recycling facility in Vernon — filed for Chapter 11 protection. This was the second such filing in 11 years.

Image:Exide.com

In mid-September, they won court approval to pay out $16 million in bonuses to ensure that they would be able to carry out their restructuring plan. The settlement agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency also required that they continue to comply with any cleanup work consent decrees, cleanup work orders, and contamination discovery and cleanup during their restructuring process.

That appears to have been easier said than done.

That very same week, the Vernon plant was not only ordered to cut production because of excessive lead emissions within a 30-day period, but also found to have exceeded airborne lead emissions yet again, even after production had been cut.

Exide was already under close scrutiny after having been forced to temporarily suspend operations earlier this year, when the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) submitted evidence from the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) showing that, beyond exceeding levels of hazardous emissions (including arsenic), their underground pipelines — which carry up to 310,000 gallons of contaminant-laden wastewater a day — were degraded and in violation of California standards. (see those docs here)

While L.A. County Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin had sided with Exide’s claim that the plant did not pose “an imminent and substantial” threat to the community and allowed them to resume operations in July, health authorities were not so easily reassured. In response, the Department of Health took the unprecedented step of offering as many as a quarter of a million people the opportunity to have their blood tested for lead exposure.

The notion that it might be necessary to test such a vast population was incredibly unnerving to the community and served to underscore the seriousness of threats that Exide’s emissions could pose, especially to children.

To add to the confusion, last week, people began receiving dense and inscrutable legal notices from Exide in their mailboxes.

The letters demanded that residents claiming personal injuries incurred prior to Exide’s shutdown in June submit proof of their damages by October 31st of this year.

The rush to get claims in, it appears, is linked to the effort to determine the extent to which there has been harm to the community so that the calculations can be included in the next phase of bankruptcy proceedings the plant’s parent company is undergoing in Delaware. And also, it seems, to ensure that any claimants unable to file petitions now would be exempted from being able to pursue claims against Exide in the future.

But how exactly does one offer proof of personal injury? Read more…

5 Comments

The Los Angeles Times Wonders What Can Be Done About Freeway Pollution

This Freeway in San Diego is part of the problem. Is part of the solution building more freeways in San Diego? Image: San Diego Personal Injury Lawyers

The Los Angeles Times published a remarkable editorial today questioning why so little is done about the public health crisis caused by Southern California’s reliance on freeway travel. However, either because of confusion or lack of will, the editorial stops short of proposing any real solutions to the crisis. It merely note it exists.

The first step, is admitting you have a problem.

The Times reports:

University research over the years has found substantially worse air pollution adjacent to freeways, and worse health among nearby residents as well. A 2005 USC study concluded that children who lived within a quarter of a mile of a freeway were 89% more likely to have asthma than those living a mile away. The closer they lived to freeways, the higher the asthma rates. But these university studies, though they added to our collective knowledge, did not affect government regulations.

While the Times earns kudos for talking about the danger posed to those living near freeways, there are two points left out of the editorial that are crucial to understanding why freeway pollution is ignored in policy settings and informs just how difficult a battle to reign in said pollution will be.

The first is that there are powerful interests that want to see the current transportation system, a system that literally cripples and enfeebles the people that live near it, continued. Oil companies, car manufacturers, construction unions, are just some of the giants that will fight meaningful change in transportation policy unless the new policy involves clean car programs.

For examples, Xcel Energy is looking to pervert the democratic process in Boulder, Colorado because the city wants to convert to clean power. Locally, AAA and car dealerships have eschewed the public process to pull the levers of power behind the scene to attempt to block a road diet and protected bike lanes plan on South Figueroa Street.

The second problem missed by the Times is that the people whose lives are devastated by the pollution creating freeways are not the people creating the pollution. Traditionally, the communities dissected by asphalt scalpels are the poorest and least likely to wield power behind-the-scenes. Not coincidentally, they are also least likely to own cars and travel on a freeway for work/recreation/whatever. Read more…