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Home > Feature Articles > Logistics and Vehicle Fleet Management > Goods Movement

Port Study Documents Scale and Health Impacts of Goods Movement

Southern California ports making progress, but health impact is costly

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"U.S. Container Ports and Air Pollution: a Perfect Storm,"

This report presents findings of a 10 month study in 2007 that assessed air pollution control efforts at America's top 10 container ports.

Study author and Energy Futures President James Cannon made on-site research visits to each of the ports, which together handle about 80 percent of all U.S. imports.

Ports included in the study were the Ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland in California, New York and neighboring New Jersey; Savannah, Georgia; the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; Hampton Roads, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Houston, Texas.

Ports Provide Fast Growth, But Pollution is High

Container ports are one of the fastest growing business sectors in the United States, with container shipments rising 80 percent in the last decade alone. Nearly 45 million container units were unloaded or loaded at U.S. marine ports in 2006.

Each step of the goods movement process is powered by diesel fuel, which releases greenhouse gases and toxic, smog-forming air contaminants.

Ports Work on Emission Reduction Programs

But Cannon found that all 10 container ports in the study have diesel emission reduction programs in place, collectively spending millions of dollars in public and private funds.

Cannon found the ports using newer diesel engines that pollute less, installing of pollution control equipment and switching to grades of diesel fuel containing lower sulfur content.

Still, ports pose "grave health risks" to millions of people living in metropolitan coastal areas, especially those living nearest the ports, Cannon reports.

Ports Stress Natural Systems of Coastal Cities

"The combination of growing U.S. port activity, the densely populated regions where most ports are located, and the prevailing onshore wind patterns that accumulate rather than disperse port air pollution create a perfect storm of threats to public health," he said.

The study found that natural gas is currently the leading alternative fuel for goods movement, and six projects are currently underway in California to deploy fleets of natural gas-powered cargo handling vehicles.

Port of Los Angeles Is Leader in Greenhouse Gas Reduction

The largest port in the country, the Port of Los Angeles, has taken a proactive position to recognize and reduce the impacts of greenhouse gases in the port area, says Geraldine Knatz, the port's executive director.

That attitude has been recognized, On January 30, the Port of Los Angeles announced it has earned the designation "Climate Action Leader" from the California Climate Action Registry, the first port in the state with this distinction.

Innovation Support for LNG Truck Engine

A project to develop a new, low-emission, liquefied natural gas-fueled truck engine will receive a $250,000 grant from the Port of Long Beach and an equal amount from the Port of Los Angeles. The funds will support a project by Westport Power Inc. to create, test and certify a heavy-duty liquid natural gas engine by late 2008 to meets strict 2010 emission limits on smog-forming nitrogen oxides. Westport estimates that each LNG truck will cut nitrogen oxides by half a ton a year compared to diesel trucks of the same model year.

To clear the air around the nation's ports, alternative fuels are a good start, says Cannon, who also recommends development of a national port cleanup strategy at the federal level supported by a national funding mechanism.

Port Goods Movement Health Impacts

According to the California Air Resources Board, the current health impact associated with port-related goods movement and other port activities in California is close to $19 billion a year, in 2005 dollars.

But neither of those measures is in place, and today, frustrated with "empty promises to clean up port operations" the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, and the Coalition For A Safe Environment, CFASE, announced plans to file a lawsuit against the Port of Long Beach.

"We are tired of listening to the port authorities saying all the right things, but doing very little," said David Pettit, a senior attorney with NRDC and director of NRDC's Southern California Air Program. "It is time for a new approach, so the kids can breathe without inhalers and the elders can live to an old age."

"Port-related diesel emissions cause thousands of preventable hospital visits for asthma, heart attacks, strokes and other ailments every year, including many that prove fatal," said Jesse Marquez, chair of CFASE. "But because the victims of pollution die quietly, nobody pays attention to them. This has got to stop."

The lawsuit would be brought under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a federal law that allows a federal court to order a polluter to stop causing harm to the public and to the environment if an imminent and substantial endangerment can be shown.

SOURCE: Environmental News Service-Newswire


PROBLEM: Imbalance of international trade

SOLUTION: Buy less, buy better, discard less...and support local economies.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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