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    To Our Readers/Opinion

    Not Going Gently Into That Long, Dark Night

    (December 1, 2002) -- We want to thank our readers for their loyalty and support, evident in the number of people who've visited our front page during the past week seeking news. They found a greyed page indicating a death had occurred in the publisher's family.

    In October, we advised our subscribers that a serious family illness prevented us from providing our usual coverage. We were inundated by emails with heartfelt expressions of support. We thank you for them, each and every one.

    The publisher's mother, Erica, was blessed with 82 years, far more than many. She drew her last breath last week surrounded by those who loved her.

    Since the early 1990s, drawing every breath was a struggle for Erica. Congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmias -- serious enough by themselves -- were worsened by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which effectively turned her lungs to cardboard.

    Spasms of breathlessness first began with walking, then came when standing, then sitting, then talking, then eating. One pill became many, and inhalers turned to nebulizers which turned into oxygen tanks. Her world shrank from travel, to car, to home, to living room, to bedroom, to tethered oxygen. We came to do more and more of the things for her that she could no longer do for herself. When lifting a fork became an exertion, we fed her. When salt in processed foods sent fluid to her damaged lungs, we cooked from scratch. These were the least difficult among a world of growing indignities.

    Tests also revealed a spot on her lung that doctors believed was lung cancer, untreatable in her weakened condition.

    Is it possible anyone could rationalize inflicting such illnesses on innocent people to maintain pecuniary benefits for themselves?

    In August, 2002, reported (when other LB media outlets didn't) that the South Coast Air Quality Management District's Executive Officer labelled the Ports of Long Beach/Los Angeles "by far the largest source of air pollution in our region." From AQMD's release:

    All marine vessels in the ports emit more than 47 tons per day of smog-forming nitrogen oxides. That is more than one-fifth the amount emitted by all of the region's cars. It is also nearly equal to the total nitrogen oxide emissions from the top 300-emitting industrial facilities in the region, including all power plants and refineries...

    Ships burn some of the dirtiest fuel in the world, containing up to 20,000 parts per million of sulfur. That is 40 times more than the amount allowed in diesel fuel for trucks and other equipment in California. ...Toxic emissions from diesel-powered ships, trucks and other equipment in the port area are the primary reason why nearby communities have some of the highest cancer risks in the region due to air pollution.

    AQMD's Multiple Air Toxics Exposure Study (MATES II) in 2000 found that air pollution in the port area was responsible for a cancer risk of more than 1 in 1,000. On average, 70 percent of the cancer risk from air pollution is due to diesel particulate emissions, the study found. has reported details of the AQMD MATES-II (Multiple Air Toxics Exposure Study) study when (to date of this posting) other LB media outlets have not. The AQMD study projects an increased cancer risk for most of LB over a lifetime attributable to air pollution from the port area. It says roughly 70% of the cancer risk from air pollution stems from diesel particulate emissions. It indicates the cancer risk from airborne toxics in much of LB over a lifetime is worse than in refinery adjacent areas of the southbay.

    The AQMD's study is especially chilling because it is a conservative estimate of port and diesel health impacts. The MATES-II study only deals with future cancer deaths, not future COPD deaths...meaning the full human toll is understated. maintains permanent links to the MATES-II study and its airborne toxics cancer risk maps on our front page.

    With the exception of, the AQMD MATES-II study received scant substantive news coverage by LB media, with occasional commentary references by some. Efforts by local activists to draw attention to its damning details were generally brushed off by LB's establishment.

    Eventually LB area activists including Diana Mann (ECO-link) and Don May (California Earth Corps) made the Press-Telegram's front page by organizing a mock funeral to put a human face on port pollution. This event also drew the attention of L.A. media (TV and print outlets) and made the human toll visible. We were unable to cover this important story at the time due to Erica's illness and we do not want its significance lost now.

    For much of this year, Ms. Mann has tirelessly dragged a posterboard version of the MATES-II cancer risk map to events all over LB. She regularly refers to its high risk cancer area as a "diesel death zone." At public hearings, she puts the map in the faces of mortified Harbor Commissioners and Councilmembers. And of course, she brought the map to the mock funeral where TV stations showed it as part of their news reports.

    Mr. May has been sounding the alarm about increasing COPD deaths for years. Now armed with additional data, he has begun amplifying his public testimony with numbers that make local officials cringe. By applying simple mathematics to AQMD and other agency figures, Mr. May has derived estimated numbers of people he believes will die from cancer and COPD as a result diesel particulates. The future human death toll stuns even the most jaded listeners.

    All of this has paralyzed LB officials, although it shouldn't. LB is a big part of the problem and should be a big part of the solution.

    LB lets ships burn cheap, filthy fuel while docked at the Port. LB knows cargo goes onto diesel trucks that spew particulate poisons into LB neighborhoods.

    Local environmentalists have offered constructive solutions to these problems. LB officialdom has mainly ignored them thus far, but we predict that eventually (as with the L.A. river), LB's establishment will come to recognize the common sense in cleaner, smarter ways of doing business.

    In July, California Earth Corps, headed by Mr. May, proposed specific measures that the group believes could reduce port related diesel pollution. reported these in detail months ago (when other LB media didn't report the story). We posted CA Earth Corps' emailed letter verbatim, describing the alternatives with specificity. (To view our story, click here.)

    To our knowledge, no one at the Port of Long Beach has deigned to offer a substantive reply to these constructive suggestions. If they did, we'd report it. We don't know if Earth Corps' suggestions are meritorious or full of beans, but if even some of them hold water they should be vigorously pursued without delay.

    To resist this is to be on the wrong side of history. In 1999, after near endless discussions, the AQMD amended one of its rules and put restrictions on uncovered, polluting piles of petroleum coke at the Ports of LB and L.A. To his credit, Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, a former LB Councilman whose Council district included the Port of LB, moved swiftly to foreclose any future attempt to weaken the AQMD rule, authoring legislation that required covering the coke piles by a date certain...and hastening that date. This law, which will save lives by keeping coke dust out of peoples' lungs, will almost certainly be Alan Lowenthal's most enduring legacy.

    This year, Councilmembers Dan Baker and Bonnie Lowenthal, both of whom represent Port areas, agendized and won Council support for then pending legislation (authored by Alan Lowenthal) to reduce truck idling times in the Port. This was a watershed event, showing a Council no longer willing to be subservient to the Port's rent paying tenants. Despite self-embarrassing Port opposition, the net effect was an amended bill that accomplished the legislative goal.

    The Council needs to build on this momentum. Some thoughtful Councilmember(s) should agendize Mr. May's pollution reducing proposals and move that they be given serious study...and not by the Port's bureaucracy but by independent parties the Council chooses.

    Councilmembers are supposed to protect their constituents' health and safety. If any Councilmember thinks the pecuniary interests of Port tenants should trump this, they shouldn't be on the Council.

    The City Council is not powerless over the Port. Under the City Charter, the Council votes annually to approve (or disapprove) the Port's budget. The Council should begin attaching conditions to its future approval, including assurances that the Port won't oppose legislation that the Council supports...and will implement meaningful anti-pollution measures.

    Yes, the Port currently kicks up to 10% of its revenue into the City's general fund, but we believe the Port is still imposing more costs than it's paying for. We'd prefer a Council focused on reducing Port damages and pursuing reimbursement -- in full -- for Port imposed costs. Other cities balance their budgets without being propped up by a Port. If LB were better governed, it could do likewise, but since LB has a double-digit deficit (caused by Councilmembers spending more than they're taking in), Port dollars can't be turned down.

    But that doesn't prevent LB's Port from doing the right thing. If some Port tenants produce significant pollution, their rents should be raised to a level sufficient to deter present dirty practices and fund implementation of new, cleaner ones. If LB Port tenants don't like this, let them try docking in Hawaii.

    We also believe in appropriate social opprobrium. With all due respect to Harbor Commissioners personally, in our opinion a Board that has done so little while our Port has become part of our area's largest pollution source is an embarrassment in need of correction. We think incumbent Harbor Commissioners need to hear this in blunt terms from LB residents and business leaders, in public, in private, whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.

    Finally, we cannot ignore a tangential but pressing matter. Port and City Hall officials have tried hard to get Congress to pay for additional Port security measures. They've lobbied aggressively in DC but returned with less than needed (and less than LB deserves). [Comment: We strongly suspect some business interests have told Congress they don't want pesky security to slow containerized commerce.]

    On this, the Mayor and Council must draw the line: their constituents' lives come before some corporation's containers.

    If Congress won't fund needed Port security, Port tenants should pay to address security risks that their containerized cargo creates. Yes, this means consumers will ultimately pay. Yes.

    This is intellectually honest and far better than what Boston and NY-NJ Port authorities did at their airports...when they ignored tenants' security gaps and helped deliver mass deaths.

    On November 26, Mayor Beverly O'Neill (at Councilwoman Jackie Kell's request) adjourned the evening's City Council meeting in Erica's memory. This was very kind and sincerely appreciated, thank you.

    But saving lives is better than memorializing them. LB should not be a town where paying rent to the Port grants an entitlement to risk residents' health and safety.

    LB city government has a duty to prevent dangers to people resulting from operations at this city's Port. This shouldn't be controversial. If it is, it's the least we can do to ensure others don't suffer Erica's illnesses...or the fate of those on 9-11-01.

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