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What Do You Get When You Cross
Transportation of goods across the region is a major contributor to the most harmful of these pollutants. It's time to look at both the cause and the solutions.
Diesel Trucks and Day Care Centers?
Health Impact of Diesel Transportation
Diesel Pollution in Southern California is responsible for 70% of the estimated carcinogenic risk from air toxins (according to South Coast Air Quality District.
Transportation of goods across the region is a major contributor to the most harmful of these pollutants. And that's the business connection to day care centers...and our children.
The Need for Air Pollution Reduction
Recent air pollution and epidemiological findings suggest that harmful vehicle-related
pollutants and their associated adverse health effects concentrate within a couple hundred meters
of heavily traveled freeways and thoroughfares. We’re just beginning to understand the health
and economic costs of such localized effects, and we still know little about who is exposed to
Recent field studies indicate that vehicle-related pollutants such as ultrafine particles, black
carbon, and carbon monoxide are highly concentrated immediately downwind from major roadways.
Their relative concentration declines by as much as sixty percent at 100 meters downwind,
drops to near background levels at about 200 meters, and are indistinguishable from background
ambient concentrations at 300 meters. Among vehicle-related pollutants, ultrafine particles are
especially worrisome since they are capable of penetrating cell walls and the blood-brain barrier
and can be easily absorbed into vital organs.
Diesel exhaust particulate is also a great concern as evidence is rapidly accumulating that subjects who live near roadways with a high volume of diesel
vehicles are more likely to suffer from respiratory ailments, childhood cancer, brain cancer,
leukemia and higher mortality rates than people who live more than 300 meters away from such
roadways. Vehicle-related air pollutants have also been associated with respiratory illness,
impaired lung function, and increased infant mortality. A Los Angeles County study found that
pregnant women who reside within 750 feet of heavily traveled roads face a ten to twenty percent
higher risk of early birth and low-birth-weight babies.
The Business Connection with Diesel Emissions
Recent and projected expansions of goods movement corridors in Southern
California raise many environmental justice concerns, including the potential localized
effect of diesel pollution. Heavy-duty diesel trucks emit high levels of ultrafine and fine
particles, and a complex mixture of gaseous air pollutants, 41 of which are listed by the
State of California as toxic air contaminants.
Transportation Corridors Produce Higher Levels of Harmful Air Pollutants
Transportation corridors with heavy-duty
diesel traffic such as the 710 freeway in Los Angeles tend to have higher concentrations
of these harmful pollutants than a freeway with less diesel traffic such as the 405.
California Department of Transportation says that in 2002 the segment of the 710 from
the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles through the low-income, minority communities
of Lynwood, South Gate, and Bell into East Los Angeles carried over 32,000 trucks
per day, comprising up to fifteen percent of all the traffic on this segment. Much of this
truck traffic carries goods throughout the entire region.
According to the South Coast
Air Quality District,
diesel particulate emissions are responsible
for about seventy percent
of the estimated
carcinogenic risk from air toxins.
Diesel Emission Reduction Solutions
Given the pervasiveness and necessity of urban roadways, multiple strategies will
be required to address the adverse impacts of vehicle-related pollutants, especially since
technological solutions for future gains in emission reduction appear limited in the near
future. While gasoline vehicles have become much cleaner, on- and off-road heavy-duty
diesel engines are just now being required to meet stricter emissions standards.
On-road diesel engine models of 2007 or newer sold in the United States
will now be equipped with advanced pollution control technology such as particulate
filters and required to use newly available ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (ULSD).
Retrofit Solutions for Diesel Vehicles
Similar requirements will be phased in over the next decade for new non-road diesel engines
such as in construction, agricultural, and industrial equipment. The California Air
Resources Board (ARB) suggests these new on-road diesel standards could result in a
ninety percent reduction of NOX emissions and a ninety percent reduction in particulate
matter emissions compared to 2004 diesel standards.
Diesel engines are very durable, however, and can last for thirty years, which limits
the near-term effectiveness of the new standards. Even though retrofitting older diesels
with new emissions controls and using ULSD could help curb emissions, implementing
a large-scale retrofit program is extremely challenging. The San Pedro Bay Ports
recently proposed incentive programs to promote the replacement and retrofit of older
heavy-duty diesels and to make alternate fuels and clean diesel more widely available.
Children’s Facility Location Solutions
Another strategy restricts “sensitive land uses” away from major roadways. In 2003,
the California legislature responded to the evidence of high concentrations of harmful
pollutants near major roadways by prohibiting the construction of public schools within
500 feet of busy roadways. Ten percent of California public schools and nineteen percent
of the state’s licensed childcare centers are located within 500 feet of a major roadway.
As many as 25 percent of childcare centers are located within 650 feet of a major roadway.
The California Air Resources Board recently developed recommendations for
restricting residences, schools, day-care centers, playgrounds, and medical facilities near
heavily traveled roadways and other air pollution sources. The board’s objective is to
reduce cumulative exposure from multiple sources of pollution—not just major roadways,
but also sources such as distribution centers, rail yards, ports, refineries, and
Strategic site design could help reduce the exposure of vulnerable populations to vehicle
pollutants. For instance, playgrounds and outdoor activities at schools could be located
on the side of the property farthest from major roadways.
Outdoor and vigorous activities could be restricted during high traffic periods.
Smart Growth Limit Solutions
Community Smart Growth plans to reduce vehicle-miles traveled through mixed-use development could reduce
both near-roadway exposures and regional smog. Such development, however, should
be evaluated carefully to avoid high local air pollution concentrations from multiple
commercial, industrial, or transportation infrastructure.
Transportation Project Site Solutions
With the recent adoption of new rules by the Environmental Protection Agency and
the Federal Highway Administration, regional agencies will soon be required to demonstrate
that transportation projects involving significant increases in diesel traffic (such
as road expansions and new bus terminals) do not create hazardous hotspots of particulate
Down to the Meter: Localized Vehicle Pollution Matters, by
Douglas Houston (PhD candidate in urban planning at the UCLA; Jun Wu assistant
professor of public health at UC-Irvine (email@example.com). Paul Ong professor of urban planning – UCLA;
and Arthur Winer professor of environmental health sciences, UCLA.
California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board. Draft Air Quality and Land Use Handbook: A Community Health Perspective: http://www.arb.ca.gov/ch/aqhandbook.htm
Edited by Carolyn Allen