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Written by Subject: Environment



Part 25:Toxic Underbelly of Growth

 By Frosty Wooldridge

Have you ever heard of a "diesel death zone" in or near your neighborhood? 

Have you awoken day after day to clanking machinery, wafting odors and the roar of big trucks?   Have you sat in gridlock traffic breathing toxic fumes?   Have you seen black smoke belching from truck stacks?  Have you noticed that brown cloud over your city? 

In a brilliantly depressing article, "DARK SIDE OF THE NEW ECONOMY" by Wade Graham in the Spring issue of "Onearth" by the Natural Resources Defense Council, I couldn't stop reading his report.  

The Busiest Seaport in the United States; San Pedro, CA

 "California's San Pedro Bay ports located in south Los Angeles form a vast metropolis of polluting cargo ships, trucks and locomotives— a diesel death zone," Graham said.

In this marine arena, 5,800 cargo ships unload 40 percent of all seaborne goods imported into the United Sates annually.  Everything passes through this port including oil, cars, salt, steel, chemicals, plastics, gypsum, machinery, lumber, cotton, food and much more.

An astounding 40,000 truck trips a day move containers from docks and terminals to trains and interstates for distribution. 

"Shipping volume doubled from 1990 to 2000, and doubled again by 2006," Graham said.  "A conceit of the 'new economy' is that it promises freedom from smokestacks and sweatshops of the past two centuries.  But this is an illusion.  The new economy not only rests on the grimy pollution of the old one, but propagates, multiplies and feeds it while spreading it around the world like a pandemic."

Emissions Huge in Total

Ships arriving in California burn low grade fuels that emit sulfur content at 3,000 times higher than fuel in new diesel trucks.  Large cargo ships burn 'bunker' fuel that emits as much exhaust as 12,000 cars.  While unloading for three days, these ships idle their engines -- spewing toxic exhausts into the air 24 hours a day.  

When you multiply 5,800 ships, thousands of trucks, barges, trains, homes and factories— imagine the environmental disaster for people living in the area.

Graham said, "The twin ports emit more pollution than the top 300 industrial sources and refineries in the Los Angeles Basin combined."

Just think what happens to this port and its citizens when it receives goods for consumption by an added 100 million Americans by 2040.  Multiply current environmental calamities by that 100 million, 33 percent growth factor.  

Impact Upon Human Beings Catastrophic

"The crude machinery of 21st century world trade presses up against peoples' lives like a dirty storm surge," Graham said. "The smoke, smog, smell, noise and glare of lights flood the area 24 hours per day, seven days a week.  Trucks are everywhere; some 15,000 rigs, heavily polluting, driving on chock-full highways while they ply local streets looking for a faster way onto jammed 710."  

Jesse Marquez, local activist, said, "You see and feel the smog and smoke clouds, you breathe sudden, inexplicable miasmas of chemical stench that vanish just as suddenly, your eyes sting and your head pings.  In bygone days, harbors smelled of rotting fish, creosoted pilings and a thousand dank and exotic odors of the goods that moved through them.  Now the overwhelming smells come from petroleum products and their combustion."

For most innocent and unknowing Americans, diesel exhaust and all burning creates fine particles that penetrate lung tissue causing genetic and cellular tissue damage.  Diesel emissions contain benzene, formaldehyde, nitrogen,  sulfur oxides, arsenic, cadmium, dioxin and mercury— all cancer causing agents.

As shown in the "Part 22: Air Pollution" portion of this series, children suffer the greatest -- with asthma and developmental damage to their growing bodies.   

To give you an idea of the enormity of this dilemma, the United States features 86 seaports with ships, locomotive engines and trucks spewing sickening amounts of pollution into our air, land and oceans.  With an added 100 million population, this insidious assault on our environment grows worse by the day.

I lived in Colton, California for a short time. It's located at the end of a funnel cloud of pollution rolling through the San Bernardino Valley.  If I jogged in the morning, it felt like I was breathing air directly from the exhaust pipe of a car.  By the afternoon, I felt mentally and physically exhausted.  Why?  Everyone breathes extremely polluted air throughout the Los Angeles area.  I moved away within six months to save my lungs.  

Unchecked Growth; More Population Means More Emissions

Graham said, "Total business volume expects to triple by 2020, and quadruple by 2025.  Already, 50 vessels stack up at a time -- waiting to unload while they idle black smoke into the skies of every port."

Graham wrote that local activists work to get the big ships hooked up to electric outlets for power while they unload their cargo shipments, but, for the most part it's a futile effort as massive growth defeats any efforts for environmental responsibility.

Laura Rodriguez, an activist to stop the pollution, pushed a bill to clean up the air, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it.  Big business refused to support a $30.00 per overloaded container for air quality improvement.   She said, "I think that nothing we do counts."

Not against money and profits from the big boys! 

Dear readers – please take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine how the insidious pollution blankets the immediate area, then wafts in whatever direction the prevailing winds will carry it.   Do you live in such a 'diesel death zone' or a city with massive air pollution?   If you don't, given enough time by adding 100 million Americans in 33 years, your children will suffer everything described in this series.

Our Future Filled With Unnecessary Dangers

That's what we face fellow citizens!  This unending growth paradigm bases its existence on production, consumption and waste.  Rampant population growth provides the fuel that grows the wildfire of consumption resulting in pollution.  The implosion becomes inevitable -- it can't continue.

As you connect the dots on this overpopulation dilemma facing not only America, but India, China, Mexico, Africa, Brazil and many other countries— you can't help but become alarmed.

As you can see by Laura Rodriguez's frustration, she felt like nothing she had done changed her situation.  It didn't.  However, as this overpopulation crisis deepens and widens across America, more must step forward creating a 'critical mass' of citizen action to stop it.   Every involved American creates the vital "tipping point" for changing the future toward a viable civilization.  What are you doing?