New Study Says U.S. Seaports Are Largest Urban Polluters

Ten major ports get environmental grades from "B-" to "F"; Los Angeles and Long Beach earn unsatisfactory "C" grades

LOS ANGELES (March 22, 2004) - U.S. seaports are the largest and most poorly regulated sources of urban pollution in the country, according to a report released today by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and the Coalition for Clean Air. Harboring Pollution: The Dirty Truth about U.S. Ports grades the ten biggest seaports for their impact on air and water quality, land use, and nearby communities.

The report finds that despite the availability of technology to cut pollution, major seaports are emitting ever-larger amounts of toxic diesel exhaust and other contaminants that damage public health, disrupt local communities and harm marine habitats. With cargo volume at some ports expected to triple in the next twenty years, the report urges quick action by port operators and policy-makers to implement cleaner practices.

"Every stage of container handling can be improved to protect the health and environment of local communities; from retrofitting ships, to improving cargo handling equipment, to utilizing diesel pollution control devices on the trucks and trains that transport cargo," said Todd Campbell, Policy Director of the Coalition for Clean Air.

Harboring Pollution gives the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach the unsatisfactory grades of C- and C respectively, indicating that despite recent constructive practices, they fall woefully short in mitigating pollution generated by their operations and in addressing community concerns.

"These are not the kind of report cards you want to bring home to your parents," said Gail Ruderman Feuer, director of NRDC's Southern California Air Program. "The good news is that some port officials and shipping lines now see that greening their operations is essential for long-term economic success."

NRDC, the Coalition for Clean Air and local community groups recently resolved a three-year legal battle with the Port of Los Angeles over construction of the China Shipping terminal. The agreement will create the nation's cleanest container terminal, at which cargo ships can plug into dockside electric power instead of continuously running their massive diesel engines to generate electricity. In addition, dock trucks will run on clean, alternative fuels and a new wharf will have two low-profile cranes that minimize visual blight.

Together, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the single largest source of air pollution in Southern California, emitting as much diesel exhaust as 16,000 tractor-trailers idling their engines twenty-four hours a day. As a result, residents of San Pedro and Wilmington are plagued by acute and chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis, and suffer some of the highest cancer risk in the region.

Harboring Pollution grades the ten largest ports as measured by container throughput in 2001. In addition to overall grades, it calculates separate grades in four categories: air quality, water quality, land use and community relations, a category in which both Los Angeles and Long Beach earn "Ds."

The overall port grades are as follows: New York/New Jersey, "C+"; Charleston, "D+"; Oakland, "B-"; Hampton Roads, "C+"; Seattle, "C+"; Savannah, "D+"; Houston, "F"; Miami, "C-." On the grading scale, an "A" designates a model port, whereas an "F" indicates a port that has demonstrated reckless lack of concern for public health and the environment. The report emphasizes the need for improvements in environmental practices at all ten ports, including Oakland, which scored the highest yet must still address major environmental problems.

The report makes technical recommendations for all container ports to clean up their operations, including: dock-side power for all ships, cleaner fuels for all modes of transport, pollution controls for dirty diesel engines, and stricter storm water management. It also makes policy recommendations for federal, state and local regulators that would significantly reduce negative environmental effects on local communities and the environment.