ICO Congregations and Air Quality
Operations at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the adjacent oil refineries, and the attendant truck traffic on I-710 and surrounding streets, result in the air quality in Long Beach, especially on the city's west side, being among the region's poorest. Residents in these areas experience increased respiratory problems and higher rates of cancer than the region's norm. ICO congregations quickly identified addressing these air quality concerns as a high priority moving forward.
The statistics are sobering:
- Asthma rates among Long Beach children are the highest in the region, with an estimated 15 percent of Long Beach children suffering from asthma, compared to 8 percent overall for Los Angeles County.
- Asthma hospitalization rates are also the highest. Forty-five out of every 10,000 Long Beach children under five years old are hospitalized for asthma each year, compared to 32 out of 10,000 for the region and the state. For children ages 5-18, the rate is 17 per 10,000, compared to 12.6 and 10.9 per 10,000 for the region and state respectively.
- According to the University of Southern California's Children's Health Study, conducted over 10 years in 12 local communities, Long Beach has the highest levels of elemental carbon, a marker of diesel exhaust known to suppress the immune system, and the third highest levels of nitrogen dioxide, a known asthma trigger.
- The USC study also compared the lung development of some 6,000 children in the area, and determined that 6 percent of Long Beach children have less then 80 percent of their normal lung function, far higher than in other communities included in the study.
ICO congregations have worked in partnership with community leaders and environmental organizations to mobilize west Long Beach residents to demand greater accountability from port and refinery operators. Specifically, they have:
- Worked with the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) to improve the refineries' Emergency Notification System so that area residents receive timely information about potential harmful releases.
- Secured $1.4 million in funding from AQMD to initiate pilot fence-line air quality monitoring and school-site air filtration projects to allow residents, teachers, parents and school officials to keep tabs on what they and their students are exposed to and what steps need to be taken to improve local air quality.
- Persuaded the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) to supplement the AQMD-financed pilot project at Hudson K-12 School to extend air filtering to all Hudson classrooms through the purchase and installation of 62 portable air filters
- Begun discussions with local officials on the creation of a West Side air filter fund to extend air filtering to other West Side schools and other institutions.
- Organized effective community opposition to the effort by BNSF to build a large inter-modal rail yard next to area homes and schools.
The fence line monitoring and air filtration efforts at local schools are an important first step, and ICO congregations continue to engage with local officials to explore ways to "clean" port operations and reduce the amount of harmful pollutants being spewed into the air.