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    News in Depth

    Detailed, Damning AQMD Data On LB Air Toxics Cancer Risk Released:

  • AQMD Says Parts of LB Have Among The Highest Long Term Cancer Risk From Airborne Toxics In L.A. Basin

  • It's Mainly Mobile, Mainly Diesel, Bad In S.E. LA County, Worse In Some LB Areas...And Includes Some Smaller Parts of ELB

  • We Post AQMD's Report & Air Toxics Cancer Risk Maps

    (Sept. 30, 2003) -- The South Coast Air Quality Management District has made public stunning, detailed data -- including maps and a report to which posts links below -- indicating some parts of LB and surrounding areas have among the highest projected long-term cancer risk from exposure to cumulative airborne toxics in the L.A. air basin.

    AQMD's maps and data indicate the cancer risks from airborne toxics in parts of Long Beach -- mainly in WLB, Port and 710 freeway adjacent areas but also including some smaller parts of ELB and some beachfront areas -- significantly exceed those in most of L.A. and Orange County.

    Some parts of LB -- a beach community -- are among the worst 1% of all 1 km by 1 km areas in terms of long term airborne cancer risks in Los Angeles County, AQMD's data indicate.

    Most of the cancer risk comes from diesel and is mainly from mobile, not stationary sources, AQMD says. The agency notes that its projected cancer risks from airborne toxics in the L.A. basin are worst near the ports, airports and some freeway interchanges.

    The revelations are included in an AQMD "White Paper on Potential Control Strategies to Address Cumulative Impacts of Air Pollution," released in August 2003. We have posted the AQMD White Paper in full [caveat: 2.6 MB, a few minutes by modem].

    The White Paper's recommendations (details below) were adopted by AQMD's governing board on Sept. 5. Following the AQMD board vote, the agency posted on its web site a series of risk-based maps showing different levels of cancer risk by census tracts: AQMD listing of maps indicating cumulative impacts by census tract. has separately posted links to some of the salient AQMD maps:

    • One AQMD map shows some LB areas at cancer risk from mobile + stationary source emissions at or above 1,500/million.

    • When one lowers the cancer risk only slightly to 1,250/million, huge chunks of WLB, central and 710 adjacent parts of LB pop up.

    Most other parts of L.A. and adjacent Orange Counties do not carry these risks.

    The data and maps build on AQMD's MATES-II (Multiple Air Toxics Exposure Study) report, released in 2000 and reported first among LB media by, which projected the potential long-term cancer risk from over 30 known toxic air contaminants including diesel particulates. MATES-II indicated long term exposure to air in parts of LB carried higher cancer risks than some areas adjacent to refineries in L.A.'s southbay...and AQMD's White Paper indicates MATES-II's findings are likely understated in terms of their actual localized impacts.

    The White Paper itself includes maps showing the approximate top 1 percent of risks from all 1 km by 1 km areas in the MATES II study. A number of portions, if not most, appear to be in LB.

    • The top 100 grid cells for mobile and stationary sources (Source: White Paper, Figure 8, document's page 15) are mainly in WLB, just west of the 710 freeway, immediately north of the Port of LB

    • The top 100 grid cells for mobile sources only (Source: White Paper Figure 6, document's page 14). "The range of risks due to the mobile source contribution are 1,400 to 5,700 in a million." [emphasis added]

    • The top 100 grid cells for stationary sources only (White Paper Figure 7, p. 14). "The range of risks due to the mobile source contribution are 160 to 660 in a million."

    The AQMD White Paper notes that when examining the top [worst] 100 grid cells [localized 1 km by 1 km areas] based on cancer risk for mobile sources only including diesel particulate, diesel emissions contribute the majority of risk in those cells (more than 90% in most grid cells).

    It further notes that while these are the worst impacted areas, "[t]he top 100 grid cells should not be viewed as a cut-off point for defining high cumulative impact areas. Rather it serves as guidance to prioritize staff resources. The intent is to work through the ranking (not necessarily limited to the top 100 cells) to evaluate individual circumstances, and to develop solutions accordingly."

    The AQMD maps indicate the cumulative effects of air toxics in most of LB and much of southeast L.A. County create an elevated long term cancer risk:

    "The results of MATES II indicate that the overall average Basin cancer risk is approximately 1,400-in-one million when diesel emissions are considered; the Basin risk is around 400- to 600-in-one million excluding diesel emissions...[T]he MATES II results also indicate that higher risk levels are seen in the more industrialized areas of the Basin (the south-central portion of Los Angeles County, not the neighborhood of south-central Los Angeles; at freeway interchanges; areas near airports; and industrial areas).

    However, as seen in Figure 2, mobile sources are the most significant contributors to risk levels in the Basin, with some individual grid cells as high as 5,700 in a million. The stationary source emissions of TACs contribution to the overall estimated risk levels are presented in Figure 3, with some individual grid cells as high as 660 in a million. Stationary source TACs tend to be around the same level year-round. However, mobile source TACs tend to be higher during the fall and winter months. Due to limitations in modeling techniques, stationary source risks tend to be underestimated at the localized level."

    The White Paper notes that "the MATES II modeling technique (i.e., regional modeling rather than point source modeling) tends to underestimate the potential localized impacts."

    Despite the report's findings, AQMD says, "It is not staffs intent to prohibit growth in the high impact areas identified. This prioritization should be re-examined in future ATCP updates once staff gains more experience in addressing the cumulative impact issues and when additional technical information and tools become available."

    Although AQMD staff suggested some remedies that may take years to implement (details below), it also proposed some "early action remedies" to be started immediately (although rule amendments will require public review, CEQA and hearings], including:

  • More Stringent Requirements for New Sources Located Near Existing Schools and Possibly Other Sensitive Receptors: [rule amendment] "This control strategy would seek to establish requirements for new and relocated facilities near schools and possibly other sensitive receptors...Staff would seek to amend Rule 1401 to establish more stringent risk limits for new and relocated facilities emitting air toxics located near existing schools and possibly other sensitive receptors for their risk levels at these receptors. Sensitive receptors include schools (kindergarten through grade 12), licensed daycare centers, hospitals, and convalescent homes..."

  • Prioritize Resources for CEQA Document Review in High Cumulative Impact Areas: [policy]..."Projects with potentially significant adverse environmental impacts require an evaluation under CEQA. AQMD regularly receives CEQA documents prepared by other lead agencies for comments. Air quality is one of the CEQA topics. Relative to air quality impacts, a thorough evaluation of project related emissions, including both mobile and stationary source emissions is needed, particularly for projects located in high cumulative impact areas. This strategy would ensure that CEQA Cumulative Impacts documents prepared in conjunction with these projects are evaluated by AQMD for potentially significant impacts and that adequate measures are taken to mitigate the impacts when required...AQMD staff will prioritize resources to ensure adequate intergovernmental review of CEQA documents to ensure the accuracy and the adequacy of air quality impact analyses and the associated mitigation measures, if deemed necessary."

  • Voluntary AQMD/Local Government/Public Agency Partnership: "One of the key resources to address potential cumulative impacts associated with emissions from new, modified, and relocated facilities is local government staff such as planners, as they have the ability to control where and how facilities are located in their community. This strategy is to work with local governments and planners through a partnership to provide the necessary information and tools to minimize cumulative impacts from future potentially air toxic emitting facilities and projects in their area...
    This strategy would be implemented through an education and outreach program to advise local governments outside the current CEQA analysis process. AQMD would partner with local governments and other public agencies. This effort is different than AQMDs role in review and comment on CEQA projects because it is a more proactive, educational effort, not related to a specific project. In conjunction with the Model Air Quality Element (an EJ enhancement), AQMD staff will offer to make presentations and to consult with City Councils and Planning Commissions regarding land use decisions, and provide them with tools to identify incompatible land uses and to identify and address projects that may have a direct or indirect affect on the health of the surrounding community due to their operations. An air quality/environmental checklist may be developed for use by any local government to aid them in their decisions.
  • Other AQMD remedies could take several years, including a MATES III study, "already in the planning stages and is anticipated to be completed in approximately 1 years, starting 2nd Quarter 2004" AQMD says.

    On Sept. 5, 2003 the AQMD's governing Board directed staff to proceed with the Cumulative Impacts Reduction Strategy (CIRS) as outlined in the White Paper.

    For several years, LB area environmental activists, including ECO-link's Diana Mann and CA Earth Corps leader Don May, have voiced the view that the MATES-II cancer risk projections were likely understated. AQMD's White Paper concedes they were in fact likely understated on a localized level...and provides localized details.

    Mr. May has previously noted that MATES-II dealt only with projected cancer risk...not the risks from other diseases, including Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) which turns its victims into invalids, then kills them over several years.

    As previously reported by, Mr. May and CA Earth Corps have been among those urging use of alternatives such as bio-diesel, admittedly costlier but cleaner.

    Release of the data comes as some LB and Port officials have proposed expanding Port operations over more hours of the day, potentially leading to 24-hour Port operation. Some officials have offered expanded hours as a way to help reduce pollution and 710 freeway congestion from truck idling and congestion that now occurs in bottlenecked daytime hours.

    Critics say expanded hours would facilitate more growth and spread pollution over more hours, including periods when people are more likely to be home, increasing their exposure to airborne toxics. is the first LB media outlet to report these LB area revelations in detail. However the AQMD White Paper came to our attention after the L.A. Daily News (a San Fernando Valley based paper owned by the Los Angeles Newspaper Group which also owns the Press-Telegram) published an article by environmental reporter, Kerry Cavanaugh, noting that AQMD indicated a valley stretch of 405 freeway had elevated levels of cancer-causing contaminants. Ms. Cavanaugh reported (accurately) that "it ranks well below the ports, LAX and several high-traffic interchanges elsewhere in the region."

    [ comment: In our view, the AQMD maps and data arguably invite a truly staggering conclusion: that two public entities of the City of Long Beach -- its Port and to a lesser extent its Airport (when it had fewer flights and spawned less car and truck traffic years ago) -- are inviting cumulative impacts from their users that are contributing to future deaths of LB residents and those beyond. For the record, LB Airport is run by city management subject to the City Council. The Port is governed by Harbor Commissioners approved by the Council with a budget subject to Council approval.]

    To view the AQMD White Paper, click AQMD Aug. 2003 White Paper on Potential Control Strategies To Address Cumulative Impacts From Air Pollution (pdf file).

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