Pacific Southwest, Region 9
Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations
Progress Report 2010:
Everyone wants clean air, but there’s no simple way to achieve it across a vast region with differing sources of air pollution, topography and weather patterns. EPA works with states, local air districts and communities to develop state and local regulations that are tailored to local air issues while ensuring that air quality will meet federal health standards.
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In recent years, EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region has partnered with scores of stakeholder groups on innovative non-regulatory approaches to reduce air pollution in communities that are disproportionately affected
.This chapter looks at the results of cooperative efforts to reduce diesel emissions generated by the ports of Oakland, Long Beach and Los Angeles, which affect the health of people living near the ports and freeways used to move freight inland.
Responding to the concerns of parents of school-age children, EPA has initiated rooftop monitoring of toxic air pollutants at 40 schools across the nation, including four in California. EPA has also partnered with several agencies to create the California Air Response Planning Alliance to help protect people’s health during air quality emergencies caused by fires.
West Oakland CARE Grant,
Toxic Reduction Collaborative Get Results
EPA has a long history of involvement in West Oakland, Calif., a community surrounded by three freeways, the 4th largest container port in the U.S., a large postal facility and numerous industries. Starting in 2002, with the release of a report from the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project entitled “Neighborhood Knowledge for Change,” EPA’s West Oakland Toxics Reduction Team focused on addressing the toxics issues raised in the report.
After the EIP report was released in 2002, EPA issued a small grant to a local nonprofit to begin addressing toxics issues. The EPA team began working closely with the community and other stakeholders on specific issues, including toxic emissions from a large yeast manufacturer and diesel emissions from trucks on the streets. The EPA team and its partners provided scientific and regulatory expertise and improved the community’s access to government decision making processes. Early successes included the voluntary, permanent closure of the yeast facility when its owners could not meet emissions standards; and the City of Oakland creating alternate truck routes to keep idling diesel trucks off residential streets.
Encouraged by these results, EIP applied for and received an EPA Communities for a Renewed Environment (CARE) grant. The CARE program is designed to pull together the community, EPA and other stakeholders to assess the toxic impacts in a local area, and then prioritize mitigation efforts for reducing toxics, while working to develop the community’s long-term capacity to address environmental issues.
EPA’s team worked closely with EIP to develop a collaborative approach to further reduce toxics: the West Oakland Toxics Reduction Collaborative (WOTRC). Co-led by EPA and the EIP, the collaborative included diverse stakeholders, including concerned citizens, state and local agencies, businesses, independent diesel truckers and the Port of Oakland.
The collaborative divided into workgroups to address toxic reduction issues, then brought options to the full group. Results include:
- Providing alternative fuels (biodiesel, compressed natural gas) and a new truck information and service center to assist 2,000 truckers in complying with stringent truck standards.
- Training dozens of households on asthma prevention measures, institutionalizing the program through local agencies and organizations, and using an innovative Health Impact Assessment to get mitigation measures for a senior center and other facilities.
- Developing a “roadmap” for community engagement in Brownfields site cleanup and redevelopment processes.
- Working with industrial recyclers to move out of residential areas while staying in West Oakland.
- Encouraging the Port of Oakland to develop a Maritime Air Quality Improvement Plan. The plan set a goal of reducing toxic risks in West Oakland 85% by 2020.
- Building leadership and capacity: One of the EIP members was named to the Port Commission, and a local independent truck operator established the Truck Information Center.
In a new phase of the collaboration, now underway, the community continues to engage with local stakeholders to reduce toxics.
The effort is now a national model for community collaboration. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson even attended one of the collaborative meetings in 2009 on her first visit to California.
EPA’s West Oakland team includes Richard Grow, John Brock, Karen Henry, Mike Bandrowski and Amy Zimpfer. The team’s work in the community wrapped up in October 2009, but the community’s work continues.
Recovery Act Fulfills Promise of Reducing Diesel Emissions
When you’re behind a big truck or bus, you can usually smell diesel emissions in the air. That’s because, while stricter emissions standards for cars took effect in 1975—phasing out dirty pre-1975 models by the 1990s—diesel emissions from heavy-duty trucks, buses, bulldozers, tractors and other vehicles stayed the same.
In the late 1990s, after a thorough review of scientific studies on the subject, EPA found diesel emissions to be a significant health threat, and set stricter standards for new diesel engines. The standards took effect for engines built starting in 2007.
Air quality gains from these cleaner diesel engines will be slow in coming, since the old ones usually last 25 to 30 years. That’s why EPA’s Pacific Southwest and Pacific Northwest regions started the West Coast Diesel Collaborative in 2003—to get cleaner air quicker, by uniting a variety of stakeholders to replace and retrofit diesel engines sooner. The ongoing effort got a major boost in 2009 with $300 million that Congress appropriated for the purpose nationwide under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Diesel Emissions Threaten Health
The scientific data on the health effects of diesel emissions is unequivocal. Diesel emissions contribute to unhealthy levels of fine particles, ozone and air toxics. Fine particles have been associated with an increased risk of premature death, hospital admissions for heart and lung disease, respiratory symptoms such as asthma, and other adverse health effects. Long-term exposure to diesel exhaust may pose a lung cancer hazard.
The fine particles in diesel emissions have been associated with asthma, hospital admissions for heart and lung disease, and other health effects.
The collaborative is a public-private partnership working to reduce diesel emissions along the West Coast. It was the first pilot project of EPA’s national Clean Diesel Campaign, and has brought together more than 1,000 partners across seven states in EPA’s Pacific Southwest and Northwest regions, plus Canada and Mexico.
EPA began awarding funds for innovative technologies and practices to reduce diesel emissions in 2004. By the end of 2008, EPA had provided $19 million in funding to collaborative partners, leveraging an additional $28 million and affecting 1,600 engines. Some engines were replaced, others retrofitted with pollution controls. Then came the Recovery Act, bringing $33 million to the region for this purpose in just one year. This leveraged an additional $56 million from project partners, for a total of $89 million.
To announce the new funding, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson participated in an event in early October 2009 at the Port of Long Beach with Acting Regional Administrator Laura Yoshii, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the mayors of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Californians who live or work near the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland are particularly affected by diesel emissions, since diesel trucks and equipment are constantly moving cargo to, from and within the ports.
The two ports received a total of $6 million in Recovery Act funds to replace, repower, or retrofit 139 pieces of diesel-burning equipment, including engines on gantry cranes and harbor craft. California, Nevada, Hawaii and Arizona each received $1.7 million for projects to reduce diesel emissions. The first three of these states are using the money to replace, repower, or retrofit school buses. Arizona is installing electrical outlets at truck stops near the U.S.-Mexico Border to reduce idling when truckers stop for a meal or overnight.
In most of the U.S., it may still be a few years before you can breathe clean air if you’re stuck behind a big rig in heavy traffic, but millions of people who live near the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland are already benefiting from cleaner diesel engines.
EPA's School Air Toxics Monitoring Program
It’s a well-established fact that children are more vulnerable to the health hazards of air pollution than adults; their lungs are still developing and they play hard, breathing more air for their size than adults. Yet schools are often located near major air pollution sources like freeways, factories and airports. To get a more accurate estimate of exposure and the risk to our children in schools, EPA started a School Air Toxics Monitoring Program in 2009, involving 63 schools around the nation.
In the Pacific Southwest, air monitoring began in August 2009 at three Southern California schools, and in June at one Northern California school. EPA is working closely with the local air quality districts, who operate the monitoring equipment. The schools were chosen due to their proximity to sources of air toxics: Felton Elementary is close to the I-405 freeway and Los Angeles International Airport. Soto Street Elementary is at the intersection of four major LA freeways. Santa Anita Christian Academy is near the El Monte Airport, where leaded aviation gas is used by aircraft. Stevens Creek Elementary in Silicon Valley’s Cupertino is near a large cement plant.
At the Cupertino school, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has been monitoring for hexavalent chromium (Cr6+), since that substance had recently been found in the air near two cement plants elsewhere in California. Inhalation of Cr6+ at high levels can damage the respiratory system and cause cancer. So far, the levels of Cr6+ at the school have been well below risk-based screening levels, but the district will continue monitoring until there is data for a full year, to ensure that all seasonal air patterns have been monitored.
For the three Southern California schools, the initial data indicate that the air is typical for the Los Angeles area. The good news is that the schools do not appear to be “hot spots” for pollution, but air pollution levels throughout the LA area are still too high and need be reduced.
Once EPA finishes the monitoring, EPA will review that data in terms of exposure and risk and report results to the communities. EPA will work with the local school districts, air districts and communities to find ways to reduce levels of air pollution where needed. Additional information, including monitoring data, are posted at Assessing Outdoor Air Near Schools.
Enforcement: Cement Plants Initiative Reduces Air Pollution Pollution
EPA has prioritized the investigation of cement manufacturing plants across the nation, since they are among the largest stationary sources of smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide. This Clean Air Act enforcement effort will achieve significant emission reductions at dozens of cement plants, including two near Victorville in San Bernardino County, Calif.
The latest actions, against LaFarge North America, require a $5.1 million penalty and pollution control upgrades at 13 of its U.S. plants. These include the nation’s first selective catalytic reduction system to control NOx emissions at a cement plant.
The law’s new source review provisions require that the largest emission sources obtain permits and install stringent pollution controls when initially built or making major modifications. EPA found that some cement plants failed to comply. Because NOx emissions and resulting smog can cause respiratory problems, compliance will provide health benefits, especially in areas that fail to meet federal health standards for ozone (smog).
In the largest single-facility settlement yet in EPA’s initiative, CEMEX California Cement LLC paid a $2 million fine and is taking steps to reduce smog-causing pollution by 40% at the company’s Victorville, Calif., manufacturing plant, one of the nation’s largest cement producers. Air quality in this area, near the eastern border of Los Angeles County, fails to meet the national ozone standard.
An EPA investigation found that the plant had been releasing nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, without permits setting emission limits, which are required under the Clean Air Act. Under the settlement, the facility must meet new limits for these pollutants, including stringent limits for NOx that will reduce emissions by upwards of 1,890 tons per year.
According to 2007 emissions data maintained by the California Air Resources Board, the CEMEX Victorville plant, along with eight other cement plants in California, are among the state’s 25 largest stationary sources of NOx. EPA is investigating most of these cement plants, and settled another case involving excessive NOx emissions in 2008. This one, the TXI Oro Grande/Riverside Cement facility, just 10 miles from CEMEX, paid a $394,000 penalty.
EPA also issued Clean Air Act notices of violation to CalPortland Company’s Mojave, Calif., plant in August 2008 and March 2010 and its Rillito, Ariz., plant in August 2003, and Lehigh Cement Company’s Cupertino, Calif., plant in March 2010. A notice of violation presents preliminary findings to a company and gives it an opportunity to submit information to EPA or begin settlement discussions.
“These enforcement actions will result in cleaner air in areas where the plants are located,” said Deborah Jordan, director of EPA’s Pacific Southwest Air Division. “The CEMEX Victorville cement plant is the largest stationary source of NOx in California, so the state-of-the-art air pollution controls that CEMEX is installing should have a significant positive impact.”
The CEMEX settlement resolved EPA’s claims that CEMEX violated the Clean Air Act by making plant modifications to its Victorville plant resulting in significant increases in its capacity to pollute, without first undergoing required regulatory review, obtaining required permits, and installing state-of-the-art emission controls to reduce emissions such as NOx.
CA Air Response Planning Alliance - When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Air quality emergencies have been increasing in the Pacific Southwest over the past several years, especially wildfires, which have grown in size and destructiveness to life and property. One of the challenges to timely, effective responses to these emergencies is the number of government agencies that respond to them. Dozens of state, local, federal and tribal agencies may get involved.
Air pollution control and public health agencies are now developing the emergency response capability to use portable air monitors and public exposure health guidelines to determine the health impacts of harmful air pollutants to downwind communities. Typically, first responders such as local fire and hazardous materials agencies conduct air monitoring around fires and other harmful releases of smoke and toxic fumes. They use “occupational” health guideline limits to determine health impacts to firefighters and nearby residents. But a new model was needed to bring air quality and health agencies together to develop their capabilities to address broader health impacts during air quality emergencies.
Following the disastrous 2003 wildfires in Southern California, EPA’s regional Homeland Security Coordinator John Kennedy formed a partnership with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the state’s Emergency Management Agency to bring together agencies involved at the federal, state and local levels in air quality management, emergency response, public health and public information. In 2006, John cofounded the California Air Response Planning Alliance (CARPA).
CARPA tackles the challenge of coordinating the many agencies that respond to air quality emergencies.
CARPA’s mission is to promote a comprehensive response to air emergencies, and to improve the ability of air agencies to provide public health officials with data and information they can act on immediately. A voluntary organization, CARPA focuses on building a collaborative network at all levels of government in California to develop tools and training to help agencies gather data effectively, to interpret the data into a clear message for the public, and to get the message out quickly during emergencies.
CARPA’s three-step response model involves collecting data, crafting a message based on the data, and communicating it. The CARPA Steering Committee’s member agencies now include EPA, CARB, the California Emergency Management Agency, and representatives from other federal, state and local air quality, public and environmental health, and emergency response agencies.
CARPA held its inaugural Summit Meeting in October 2008 and convened experts from around the country to present their best practices in data collection, data interpretation and communication. More than 200 people attended. In March 2009, John and CARPA co-chair Jeff Cook of CARB received the Government Innovation Award from the American Society for Public Administration for their work in forming and leading CARPA.
The next CARPA conference is planned for October 2010 in Sacramento.
Sona Chilngaryan: Reducing Agriculture's Air Quality Impacts
The San Joaquin Valley has some of the worst air quality in the nation. Valley residents have high rates of asthma, which is aggravated by particulate pollution. Several sources, including agriculture, contribute to this pollution.
Reliable information about how to control dust from farm fields is essential for effective regulation of this particulate pollution. EPA’s Sona Chilingaryan, working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on an innovative project for assessing agricultural particulate controls, traveled to farm fields near Hanford and Los Banos.
Sona is a native of Armenia who immigrated to Southern California with her family when she was eight years old, in 1989. After ten years in Glendale, she earned degrees at the University of California at Berkeley and joined EPA in 2005.
Sona’s job in the regional Air Division’s Rulemaking Office is to review state and local air quality regulations to see if they’re stringent enough to meet the federal Clean Air Act’s standards. For the past six years, the San Joaquin Valley Air District has had a Conservation Management Practices rule in effect, requiring farmers to reduce PM-10, particulate matter that includes particles up to 10 micrometers in diameter—1/7 the width of a human hair—emitted by field tillage and harvesting.
Project assessing dust controls will help make regulations more effective.
One way to do this is by leaving dead plant stalks on the ground, rather than plowing them under, which also saves time and money for farmers. Another way is by a “combined operation,” which similarly reduces the number of times a tractor must drag dust-raising equipment through a field. The Conservation Management Practices rule has helped the valley attain federal health standards for PM-10, and ongoing research is helping provide data that can help make these regulations more effective.
Sona was part of a joint effort by USDA scientists, the San Joaquin Valleywide Study Agency, the California Air Resources Board, the local air pollution control district and the agricultural community to gather data on how effective conservation management practices are for reducing PM-10. In addition to setting up traditional air sampling devices that use filters to measure PM emissions in the field, EPA and USDA contracted with Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory to bring in LIDAR, a light detection and ranging instrument.
LIDAR directs a light beam through the dust plume. The signal that bounces back can help measure properties of the plume. For comparison, the experiment was repeated without any control measures being employed, and was done in spring and fall at different farms to capture different parts of the annual routine of farm operations. While the data had not yet been published when this story went to press, Sona says she could see that the conservation management practices were effective at reducing emissions.
The results are relevant to agricultural areas with unhealthy levels of particulate pollution throughout the Western states. Over the past year, Sona has also been working with state and local air agencies to develop effective rules to control particulates from sand and gravel mining and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from facilities that make fiberglass boat hulls and fake marble countertops. “We work with state and local agencies to make these rules more effective over time,” Sona says. For people with asthma, that’s welcome news..
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