Importing injustice - Page 3

How deregulation and Wal-Mart poison the Port of Oakland's neighbors and force poverty wages on its truckers

The community has one of the five highest asthma hospitalization rates in California, with an estimated 20 percent of its K–<\d>12 students suffering from the disorder, according to the ALA. Researchers at the University of Southern California have found that children living within a few hundred meters of freeways leading out of ports not only are more likely to suffer from asthma but also actually develop smaller lungs.

Margaret Gordon, a 60-year-old community health activist who has lived just blocks from the Port of Oakland for 15 years, told us that she and four of her grandchildren living with her all suffer from asthma. When one grandchild was born with severe asthma and her own asthma worsened after she moved to West Oakland, Gordon, then a housekeeper, started reading about the causes of asthma and made the connection to the port. Like many in the low-income neighborhood, she cannot afford to move elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Gordon has been fighting for clean air for more than a decade, and in April she was inducted into the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame for her work. In 2001, Gordon formed the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, which she now cochairs. The project has released more than half a dozen studies related to air quality. A 2003 report showed that trucks traveling through West Oakland in one day produce the same amount of toxic soot as 127,677 cars, leading to indoor air in some neighborhood homes that is five times more toxic than that in other parts of the city.

Still, Gordon told us that port officials are "only starting paying attention." Last year the California Air Resources Board passed a resolution related to air quality at ports and announced that it was developing a regulatory mechanism. A 2006 CARB report found that truck diesel exhaust accounts for the majority of the estimated 2,400 deaths related to freight transport each year and 70 percent of the state's air pollution–<\d>related cancer risk. Freight transport will cost California residents $200 billion in health costs over the next 15 years. Most of this is borne by low-income communities of color near freight transport hubs.

The combination of state mandates and local community concerns is starting to spark a change. "They would sit down and talk with us before that, but there was not anything concrete done," Gordon told us. The port is now in the early planning stages of an air-quality-improvement program, working with Gordon and other activists.

That movement is getting vigorous new support from the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, a national partnership of labor, environmental, and community activists organizing at the country's major container ports: Los Angeles, Long Beach, Miami, Oakland, New York–New Jersey, and Seattle.

"Every one of those ports has the same environmental and labor problems we have in Oakland," Doug Bloch, the coordinator for the coalition in Oakland, told us during a tour of the port's heavy industrial landscape. Virtually all of its 900 maritime acres are covered by concrete and asphalt, monster cranes that inspired Star Wars' Imperial Walkers, and 20-foot steel containers stacked up like Legos behind chain-link fences.

The Port of Oakland has no direct relationship with its truckers at the present. Shippers take price bids from among roughly 100 trucking companies at the port, then contract the work to the independent-contractor truckers. The CCSP says bidding wars lead to poverty wages for truckers, older trucks and more pollution, and a chaotic port full of inefficiencies like long pickup waits.

Under the proposed system, ports would call on their ability as landlords to set standards for the trucking and shipping companies.

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