Growth isn't so green at the Port of Long Beach's Pier S project

The Port of Long Beach is still the cause of frightening levels of toxic air pollution in harbor area neighborhoods, despite the progress the port has made in reducing its air pollution levels.  They are now proposing to build a new cargo terminal at the port, on a piece of land called “Pier S.”  While they are proposing to include a host of technologies to reduce the air pollution from this project, the reality is that we just do not yet have enough technology to reduce the air pollution down to safe levels.  

The port feels pressure to continue to expand and grow its operations to maintain a market share of our country’s international trade, and this pressure is being used to justify expanding operations that emit huge amounts of air pollution that increases the cancer risks, asthma rates, and other health problems for the nearby residents.  Because of the air pollution from the Port of Long Beach and the neighboring Port of Los Angeles, and the other polluting industries located in the area, the community next to the ports already faces elevated risks of contracting cancer from exposure to air pollution and suffers from asthma rates that are twice the national average.  The residents in this area have a 60% higher risk of getting cancer from air pollution than residents elsewhere in the region.  These harbor neighborhoods are some of the most polluted and least advantaged in LA.

In 2006, the Port of Long Beach—along with the neighboring Port of Los Angeles—released a plan called the Clean Air Action Plan, that contained the ports’ path forward to reducing their harmful air pollution.  In this landmark plan, they promised that they would never move forward with a new project that would increase cancer risks for nearby residents by more than 10 in 1 million.  But one of the proposals for the new cargo terminal at Pier S would have a cancer risk for residents that would violate this promise.  And, under all of the proposals the port is considering for Pier S, the cancer risk for the people working at Pier S—from this project alone—would be more than 50 in 1 million.  This is an unacceptable risk the people living and working in the harbor area should not bear. 

All the pollution-reducing technologies and other measures that the port has proposed to include would not reduce these high cancer risks.  So, the question is this: should the port build a new cargo terminal, at the cost of such high increased cancer risks?

Another question also worth asking is: is there a better use of this land?  There are currently two additional proposals to build and expand rail yards a few miles from the port­—called the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) and Intermodal Container Transfer Facility (ICTF), directly adjacent to several schools and neighborhoods.  Rail yards are extremely polluting operations, and community residents  and environmental organizations are outraged over the locations of the two new proposals.  In its environmental analysis, the port spent a few sentences explaining that they did not want to consider putting a rail yard at Pier S, even though it would reduce the need for the SCIG and ICTF projects, or at least reduce the need for them to be such big operations. 

I think three things are clear.  First, the port must do a full analysis to consider whether it should build a rail yard on Pier S instead of a new cargo terminal.  At the very least, this would allow the port’s Board of Harbor Commissioners to be able to make an informed decision about whether Pier S can help solve the problem of where to put new rail yard operations. 

Second, the port simply cannot move forward with a project that would increase cancer rates beyond the level it promised in its own Clean Air Action Plan.  The port is currently considering three different alternative plans for the project, and one of the plans has a cancer risk that exceeds the level promised in the Clean Air Action Plan; the port’s adoption of this alternative would violate its own clean air plan.

Third, if the port moves forward with the Pier S project, it must do everything possible to reduce the project’s air pollution impacts to the harbor area residents.  While it has already proposed requiring many pollution-reducing technologies, there is more it can do.  We are submitting to the port a list of ways to make their mitigation measures stronger.  Additionally, one of the measures that the port is already considering is to give $8.4 million in grants to programs that will mitigate against the negative air pollution impacts, such as programs that install air filtration devices in classrooms.  While this is commendable, it is simply not enough money to really mitigate against this project’s contribution to the area’s air pollution problems.  The port must give more to programs that provide life-saving relief. 

The port is currently accepting comments from the public on their proposal—the deadline to submit a comment is Friday, December 2.  To learn more about the project, you can read their environmental analysis and submit a comment to