Six-Million Dollar Air Filtration Program Approved

An important agreement was reached today.  It’s an agreement that will protect the health of some of our most vulnerable populations.  It’s also an agreement that demonstrates that with hard work, community groups, environmentalists, and government agencies can come together to make good things happen.  Today, the Port of Los Angeles, South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), and community and environmental organizations formed a partnership to allocate $6 million for air filtration systems in schools located near the Port. 

The rates of childhood asthma in communities adjacent to the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are 21.9%, compared to 15.6% for the Los Angeles region overall and 14.2% nationally.  Further, we know that children are more susceptible to air pollution than adults.  The California Office of Health Hazard Assessment advises that:

"Children are often more susceptible to the health effects of air pollution because their immune systems and developing organs are still immature. . .  Irritation or inflammation caused by air pollution is more likely to obstruct their narrower airways.  It may also take less exposure to a pollutant to trigger an asthma attack or other breathing ailment due to the sensitivity of a child's developing respiratory system.  Exposure to toxic air contaminants during infancy or childhood could affect the development of the respiratory, nervous, endocrine and immune systems, and could increase the risk of cancer later in life."

It is for these reasons and others that in 2008, my colleague Adrian Martinez took the lead in negotiating a community fund that will provide mitigation projects for the communities of San Pedro and Wilmington—two communities that are disproportionately impacted by air pollution generated by operations at the Port of Los Angeles.  Part of the fund included $6 million dedicated to placing air filtration systems in harbor-area schools.  Who with sufficient expertise would do the work, however, remained an open question. 

Over the last seven months, I have worked intensely with the Port and SCAQMD staff to find a way to pull our funds and expertise together for the betterment of harbor area children.  The result was a memorandum of agreement whereby the Port will allocate $6 million to SCAQMD, an agency with expertise in air filtration systems, to administer a comprehensive, five year, school air filtration program. 

By no means are air filtration systems the solution for Los Angeles’ air pollution problem.  They should never be used to justify siting a new school in close proximity to a freeway, railyard, port, or other polluting facility.  In fact, they only provide partial relief for children from dangerous particulate matter while they are indoors; they provide zero protection for children sitting in the courtyard at lunch time or swinging across monkey bars at recess.  However, they are an affordable “no-duh” measure for existing schools.  In short, they are the least we can do.

Thus, it’s with great pride that I celebrate the agreement that was reached today.  However, I acknowledge that the biggest challenge remains, that is, reducing air pollution at the source so that air filtration programs are a thing of the past.