Southland Air Quality Unhealthy: Stay Indoors, Limit Activity

December 7, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Smoke from four wildfires raging across Southern California has resulted in unhealthy air quality across the San Fernando Valley, along with coastal areas and surrounding portions of Los Angeles County.

All people in those areas should avoid unnecessary outdoor exposure and limit all physical exertion, said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county’s interim health officer.

“It is difficult to tell where ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of dust particles in the air, so we ask all individuals to be aware of their immediate environment and take actions to safeguard their health,” Gunzenhauser said.

“Smoke and ash can be harmful,” Gunzenhauser said, especially for vulnerable individuals, such as the elderly, children, people with asthma or individuals with other respiratory or heart conditions. Throughout the county, sensitive individuals should stay indoors as much as possible — even in areas where smoke, soot, or ash cannot be seen or there is no odor of smoke, Gunzenhauser said.

“We are also advising schools that are in session in smoke-impacted areas to suspend outside physical activities, including physical education and after-school sports, until conditions improve,” Gunzenhauser said.

People can participate in indoor sports or other strenuous activity in areas with visible smoke, soot, or ash, provided the indoor location has air conditioning that does not draw air from the outside and has closed windows and doors, Gunzenhauser said.

“If you see or smell smoke, or see a lot of particles and ash in the air, avoid unnecessary outdoor activity to limit your exposure to harmful air,” Gunzenhauser said.

If outdoor air is bad, try to keep indoor air as clean as possible by keeping windows and doors closed. Air conditioners that re-circulate air within the home can help filter out harmful particles. People were urged to avoid using air conditioning units that only draw in air from the outside or that do not have a re-circulating option. And residents were advised to check the filters on their air conditioners and replace them regularly.

Residents in affected areas should also keep their pets inside.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has also extended its unhealthful air and “No-Burn” alerts through Friday. Residents are prohibited from using wood-burning fireplaces, burning rubbish, or any other activity that adds to poor air quality.

Port of L.A. Surpasses 2020 Clean Air Goal

August 24, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The Port of Los Angeles achieved record clean air gains in 2016 while also moving a record level of cargo, according to a report released Friday.

The 2016 Inventory of Air Emissions report also found that the port surpassed its 2020 goal for reducing the health risk of its emissions.

“Our ports are the engines that power our economy, and they can also be the forces that drive our region toward a greener, healthier future,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “These outstanding results are a powerful demonstration of how we can continue making our air cleaner even as we move record amounts of cargo at the port — and I’ll keep pushing for continued progress toward the goal of zero emissions goods movement at the ports.”

The report also found that since the port’s baseline year in 2005, diesel particulate matter emissions have fallen 87 percent, sulfur oxides emissions have fallen 98 percent, and nitrogen oxide emissions have fallen 57 percent.

“The 2016 report validates the benefit of our clean air strategies in combination with improved operational efficiency,” said Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka. “We’re proud of the extraordinary progress we’ve made reducing emissions since 2006, and we’re determined to do more in the years ahead.”

During 2016, the port moved a record 8.85 million 20-foot equivalent units, an 18 percent increase in cargo since the 2005 baseline inventory.

“As emissions decline and cargo throughput rises, chipping away at what’s left gets tougher,” Port Director of Environmental Management Chris Cannon said. “The 2016 report reflects tremendous strides we’ve made with the help of all our industry and community partners.”

After Failing Air Quality Report, Improvements Suggested

August 14, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

As smoke from multiple wildfires chokes the air across California this summer, air quality has again become a hot topic in the Golden State.

But despite the current bout of wildfires, the biggest source of smog in California remains the state’s 33.5 million vehicles. California is moving to promote air quality, especially in the wake of a new report from the National Parks Conservation Association that gives Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Kings Canyon an “F” for air quality.

Ulla Reeves, clean air campaign manager with the NPCA, says all four iconic National Parks have unhealthy levels of ozone.

“Between oil and gas plants and vehicles, all of this pollution piles up together and contributes to degraded air quality,” she says. “Vehicles, in particular, are a huge problem in California.”

Governor Jerry Brown set a goal last year of one million zero-emissions cars on the road by 2023, and signed a bill to make electric cars more affordable. Three years ago, the state mandated that 15 percent of cars sold in California be all electric, hybrid or hydrogen vehicles, beginning in 2018.

Reeves says the Regional Haze Rule of the Clean Air Act needs to be tightened to force additional action on the issue around the country.

“That rule, unfortunately, has some loopholes and weaknesses that are allowing states and polluters to essentially game the system and often avoid cleaning up,” she says. “We’re calling on the Obama administration to strengthen the regional haze rule.”

‘The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has criticized the regional haze rule as too stringent, and has made the claim the rule has stood in the way of construction of hundreds of new power plants.

Health Concerns Weigh Heavy on East L.A. Residents

June 25, 2015 by · 5 Comments 

At a meeting in East Los Angeles Saturday, resident after resident voiced concern that a “plague” of pollution and health issues could rain down on their predominately Latino neighborhoods if they are forced to endure more light rail construction.

Their comments came during a public hearing at Griffith Middle School on Metro’s draft environmental report and study on alternatives for closing the gap between the Long Beach (710) and Pasadena (210) freeways.

[Read an introduction to the SR-710 project here]

Earlier that week, Martha Hernandez attended a meeting at Centro Maravilla in East L.A. with USC-Medical Center doctors who explained the substantial health risks tied to pollution.

“We were told air pollution causes asthma, diabetes, autism, and other illnesses,” she told EGP in Spanish.

A map of East Los Angeles illustrate how the community is surrounded by freeways. (Google Maps)

A map of East Los Angeles illustrate how the community is surrounded by freeways. (Google Maps)

Like Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, many people at the meeting believe they are the victims of environmental racism and injustice, and were given little say on a project that could tear up their community.

[Read her full statement here]

“I’ve had enough of those who want to continue taking advantage of East L.A. because we are Latinos,” said Carmen Gonzalez, who lives near Mednik and Third Street, where a light rail station would be built if this option is selected.

Speakers said past transportation projects have already left them exposed to high levels of toxic pollution.

“I have asthma and it’s harder for me to play football,” said Garfield High School student Timothy Williams.

“Think about the health of our children, emissions affect our community,” another speaker said.

“Air quality hasn’t been studied yet” but should be before anything is decided, said eastside resident Lili Hernandez.

Lea este artículo en Español: SR-710: Residentes del Este de Los Ángeles Preocupados por Su Salud

Living in an area with high levels of traffic pollution can lead to serious illnesses, according to a recent infographic, Living Near Busy Roads or Traffic Pollution, shared by the USC Environmental Health Center.

The infographic shows that women who are pregnant are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure, giving birth to low-weight and/or premature babies, who in turn have higher levels of behavior or learning problems and autism; smaller lungs, asthma, ear, nose, throat infections and obesity. In adults, long-term exposure to pollution can lead to higher levels of heart disease, stroke, lung problems, memory loss and a shorter life span, the report found.

“We have schools, parks, the senior apartments and businesses” close to where they want to build the light rail, and there’s no doubt that’s harmful, Gonzalez told EGP in Spanish.

Before the meeting started, stakeholders were able to review maps and other documents pertaining to the five alternatives under consideration in the Draft EIR. They also had the chance to grill Metro staff about the plans.

One group of women directed their frustration at a Metro representative, questioning him about a now retired Metro employee’s assertion that metal scrapings from the elevated train – two stories high in some sections – would be released into the air and breathed in by unsuspecting residents.

Rudy Torres owns a business in East Los Angeles and says he supports the building of a 710 tunnel. He says, “It is the only [option] that doesn’t put a burden on East L.A. and cost life.”

The East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce is actively fighting the light rail option, which they say will do nothing to relieve traffic on the 710 Freeway but will disrupt life on the eastside. The business group says a tunnel connecting the 710 to the 210 Freeway is a better solution for traffic reduction that will not be as harmful to the East L.A. community. “It will improve the flow of traffic and decrease traffic on surface streets north of Valley Boulevard, therefore reducing pollution in our local communities,” the Chamber states.

A little further south on the 710 corridor is the City of Commerce. The city’s residents on a daily basis experience the impact of diesel exhaust from the nearly 47,000 trucks that travel the 710 freeway everyday, and as many as 1,000 trucks an hour on the city’s main streets.

The daily exposure to high levels of exhaust causing pollution has raised Commerce residents’ risk for cancer, asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Last October, Commerce approved a resolution strongly supporting the effort to close the 4.5-mile gap “as soon as possible.” City officials believe completion of the freeway will alleviate traffic in local neighborhoods, generate economic development and create jobs in the region.

On Tuesday, Commerce unveiled one of the 20 the new “No Idling” signs that will be placed throughout the city targeting truck drivers who leave their engines running while stopped in the city.

Mayor Lilia Leon calls closing the 710 a much-needed regional effort to improve transportation. “Because there is not a connector, everybody ends up in Commerce,” Leon said. “If there was one, probably they would keep going on the 710,” she told EGP. “I’m sure it will alleviate the traffic flow,” she said.

Councilman Jose Huizar (CD14), who represents El Sereno, an L.A. neighborhood that has for decades been at the forefront of efforts to block the 710 expansions, disagrees.

On his website he states that he strongly opposes the 710 freeway expansion and believes a “multi-modal approach” — which could includes things like street light synchronization and dedicated bus lanes — is the better alternative to alleviate traffic.

“I oppose any option that disrupts the community of El Sereno or brings additional traffic to the area. The five alternatives in the Draft 710 EIR fall woefully short in my opinion,” Huizar told EGP via email.

“Working with local stakeholders and community groups, my office has begun the process of asking El Sereno and the surrounding communities a question that no one has asked them up until now: What do they want? What traffic improvements can we make locally that help, serve and advance the community of El Sereno?” Huizar said.

The councilman hosted a meeting on the SR-710 alternatives in El Sereno last week, which according to his spokesperson Rick Coca was “well-attended.” The “focus was entirely on truly listening to local residents to get their feedback – something that has been lacking in this process,” said Coca.

Metro held a meeting Saturday at Griffith Middle School in East Los Angeles to allow eastside residents a chance to provide testimony on the SR-710 North project.(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Metro held a meeting Saturday at Griffith Middle School in East Los Angeles to allow eastside residents a chance to provide testimony on the SR-710 North project.(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

If the light rail train is constructed, 15 businesses will have to be moved and the new East LA Civic Center Plaza would be replaced with a train station. About 155 employees would lose their jobs according to the website East LA Against Injustice and Racism. Nueva Maravilla Public Housing and Kipp Raices Charter School—which will open in the fall—could also be taken.

Several residents told Metro that more studies and health assessments must be made before they reach a decision.

In the past “People proposed a lot of ideas that were ignored said East L.A. resident Luis Garcia.

The deadline to submit comments has been extended until August 5th.


Comments will be accepted by mail addressed to Garret Damrath, Caltrans Division 7, Division of Environmental Planning, 100 South Main Street MS-16, Los Angeles CA 90012

The full study is available at

The document can be viewed at the Caltrans District Office, 100 S. Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

To read more about the SR-710, go to


Twitter @jackieguzman




SR-710 Expansion: 60 Years of Discord

June 25, 2015 by · 3 Comments 

More than half a century ago, transportation officials in the Southland knew that they would have to do something to relieve the inevitable traffic congestion that would pile up along the 710 Freeway headed north. They had plans to build a freeway extension to complete the 4.5-mile gap between the terminus of the 710 Freeway in Alhambra and the 210 Freeway in Pasadena.

Fearing disruption to their neighborhoods and the taking of their homes, residents filed lawsuits, effectively stopping the expansion for nearly 60 years.

During the ensuing years, traffic has increased dramatically, both in terms of goods movement and people driving to work, school, shopping or home.

For large diesel trucks traveling from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, hauling as much as 40% of all the goods consumed in the U.S., the 710 Freeway is a key transportation route to distribution centers and commercial markets to the east and north of Los Angeles County.

The crush of traffic has pushed more trucks and cars onto local streets, making it harder for residents to get around, and according to health experts, increasing their risk of cancer, asthma, learning disabilities and premature babies due to increased pollution.

In March, Metro released a Draft Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (DIR/EIS) with five proposed alternatives for improving traffic through the region; a freeway tunnel, a light rail train; a rapid bus line; a traffic management system and the required “no build” option.

Several public hearings on the draft report have already been held; the latest Saturday in East Los Angeles. Some groups are now calling the alternatives “outdated” for today’s transportation and environmental needs, and want to start the process over.

The two proposals getting the most attention are the 7-mile tunnel connecting the two freeways, and a light rail alternative that backers say will make it easier for people to leave their car behind.

Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard represents many of the working class, predominately Latino communities caught in the 710 traffic snarl. Last week, she issued the strongest statement to date by any public official on the project:

“The proposed light rail route is an unacceptable alternative. It is one more example of the environmental racism with which East L.A. and Southeast citizens are only too familiar … one more example of a minority community being sacrificed to appease more affluent neighborhoods.” (See her full statement here ). She supports building the tunnel.

Metro has extended the deadline to comment on the on the Draft EIR from July 6 to Aug. 5. Comments will be used to create the final report and recommendation of an alternative to Metro’s Board of Directors.

L.A. County’s Air Worst In Nation

April 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County’s air quality has improved but continues to be some of the worst in the nation, while the area’s groundwater and stormwater have excessive levels of pollution, a UCLA study said Tuesday, giving the county a “C+” grade for its environment.

“Despite a strong recent history of environmental improvements, the county has a long way to go before joining the honor roll,” said Mark Gold, acting director of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

“There’s tremendous room for improvement in all six environmental areas.”

The report rated the county based on its water, air, ecosystem health, waste, energy/greenhouse gases and quality of life. The county earned C grades in most of the areas, but scored Bs for waste and energy/greenhouse gases.

In the waste category, however, the county received a “B/incomplete,” with Gold saying there is no data tracking how much waste is being recycled.

“Despite the fact that all cities in the region comply with state solid waste management laws, we don’t have the data to determine who much waste is recycled or diverted from disposal in landfills,” he said.

The institute’s Felicia Federico said one problem researchers discovered locally was that there are “enormous data gaps” and some indicators of environmental conditions “aren’t measured at all.”

“As a region we need to decide what the most important environmental measures are that we want to track and determine how we will do so regularly,” she said.

The report also found that despite large increases in water conservation, the county imports more than half of its water, and the per-capita water use is more than double that of Europe and Australia. It also found that the county’s per-capita electricity use is among the lowest in the nation, but much of that power came from coal.

Air quality has improved substantially over the last 45 years, but the region still frequently violates federal standards for ozone and particulate matter, the report found.

“We no longer have full days when children can’t go outside to play,” Gold said. “But lots of areas in the L.A. region have populations exposed to unacceptably high levels of cancer risk due to the air quality, especially in low-income areas, so we have significant environmental equity issues.”

Get SCAQMD Air Alerts Via Email

January 15, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) is urging southlanders to sign up to receive the agency’s residential no-burn and other air quality alerts via email.

The air quality board hopes the program will increase compliance of bans on burning wood when air quality is at risk. The bans are issued as part of the Check Before You Burn program, designed to protect public health by reducing harmful wood smoke from residential wood burning this winter.

Under the program, mandatory no-burn alerts are issued when fine particle air pollution is expected to reach unhealthy levels. During a no-burn alert, residents in affected areas are not allowed to burn wood in their fireplaces.

Exide Residential Cleanup Continues

December 11, 2014 by · 1 Comment 

On the quiet block of La Puerta Avenue in Boyle Heights, a small bobcat bulldozer was in high gear last week, removing dirt from homes where high levels of lead were found.

At least one hundred wheelbarrows of tainted soil were removed from two homes on the block early Thursday, part of an ongoing effort to clean up contamination residents and toxic chemical experts say are tied to emissions from Exide Technologies in Vernon.

“How many years have gone by and we didn’t even know the damage [Exide] was doing,” said Jovita Morales, one of the homeowners whose soil was removed.

The South Coast Air Quality Management Department in 2013 found several times that emissions from Exide had higher than safe levels of arsenic and lead, increasing the risk of cancer and neurological deficits to as many 110,00 residents living near the acid-lead battery recycler.

DTSC workers remove contaminated soil from a home in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

DTSC workers remove contaminated soil from a home in Boyle Heights. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

State regulators have ordered Exide to make major changes to pollution control systems at its Vernon plant, and to pay for the clean up contamination at homes like those on La Puerta Avenue.

While not admitting any culpability, Exide agreed to pay for blood lead tests for area residents who are concerned about their exposure. Testing, conducted by the county health department, started in  April. So far, only 450 people have taken advantage of the free blood tests, but none those tested “required medical intervention,” according to the county. The low number of tests has prompted the testing period to be extended for the second time until Jan. 30, according to county health officials.

Earlier this year, state regulators identified 215 homes in Boyle Heights and Maywood as having the highest likelihood of being impacted by Exide emissions. The Dept. of Toxic Chemical Substance Control, DTSC, ordered the company to pay for soil testing and more recently to put $9 million into a fund to be used to clean up all 215 homes.

As of Monday, only 104 of those homes had been tested, according to DTSC. Nineteen of the homes were labeled priority one, the highest priority based on lead levels found and whether there are children or pregnant women living in the home. Priority one homes will cleaned first, according to DTSC, which says it will continue to reach out to property owners to encourage them to get their properties tested.

DTSC Director of Communications Jim Marxen told EGP the state agency wants the process to go as quickly as possible, and has asked Exide to clean up 2.5 homes a week.

“We believe Exide is responsible” for remediating the damage, he said.

Marxen pointed out that [the plant] has been operating since 1920, nearly 100 years.

“For that extended period of time, this [assessment area] is probably the place their emissions ended up,” he said.

[Addendum: It should be pointed out that the Vernon plant itself has existed since 1920, however Exide Technologies has only been operating the plant since 2000.]

Lea este artículo en Español: Exide Continúa LImpieza en Hogares Cercanos

The two residential properties on La Puerta Avenue, which sits near the industrial side of town on the border of East Los Angeles, are the latest homes to be cleaned. Soil was removed from two homes in August; one in Maywood the other also on La Puerta Avenue.

“We are aiming to get at least five homes [clean] before the holidays,” said Marxen. “Our target is to get a least 10 to 12 homes cleaned by the third week of January,” he added.

But getting residents to sign up to get their soil tested has proven difficult, says Marxen.

Though there could be a number of reasons why testing is not complete in the assessment area, many residents may find themselves in the same situation as longtime resident Jose Ornelas, 79, who has rented the La Puerta Avenue house where he lives for 28 years.

“There was some confusion because the letters they sent were addressed to me,” he said in Spanish.

If it had not been for Ornelas contacting the owner, soil on the property would not have been tested last month.

Lucia Flores, 72, said she initially didn’t want to go through the process of having her soil tested because she wasn’t sure what would be expected of her as a homeowner.

“It took me a long time to grow these plants for someone to just come and cut them,” she half-jokingly said.

However, once the soil is tested, the results are analyzed and labeled as priority one, two, three or below threshold, says Marxen. So far all 104 homes tested have been above the allowed threshold, he added. According to DTSC, 19 homes were labeled priority one, 35 priority two and 31 priority three.

DTSC will meet with the residents at least three times to explain the test results and set up a cleaning schedule, which includes soil replacement, dust control measures, air monitoring and yard restoration that includes keeping plants deemed sensitive by the owner.

Residents do not have to be at their home while the weeklong clean up takes place, in fact they can opt to stay elsewhere at Exide’s expense, according to DTSC.

On Monday, Flores said she is waiting for the results of tests conducted back in October.

“I worry about my granddaughter who lives here,” she said in Spanish, as she watered the plants in her yard. “I have heard the [Exide] plant is bad for our health,” she said.

Exide’s Vernon plant has been closed since March as it installs enhanced systems to comply with California’s air quality standards. The company has invested $35 million on environmental, health and safety measures since 2010.

“We recognize the community’s concerns and are confident the Department’s tough new order provides strong regulatory oversight for cleaning the identified residential properties,” said Thomas Strang, Vice President of Environment Health and Safety for Exide.

“Exide is committed to operating a premier recycling facility and working collaboratively with regulators to perform all work necessary to reach his goal,” he said.

Marxen told EGP the agency hopes the visibility of the cleanup will encourage neighbors to get their yards sampled.

Morales saw the clean up taking place back in August and though about contacting DTSC out of concern for her grandchildren, ages nine and four months, who live in the home.

“We just never got around to doing it because we get home from work late,” she said. “A lot of my neighbors may be in denial, but this clean up is good for the residents.”

The cleanup up cost per property will vary according to the amount of soil to be removed and property type.

If there are still funds left in the $9 million community trust fund after the initial group targeted for testing is completed, the remaining money will go towards expanding testing and cleaning beyond the original assessment area, and for testing of commercial properties in areas adjacent to the Vernon plant.

“Wherever we find contamination that we can link to Exide we are going to make them clean it up,” said Marxen.


Residents in the two assessment areas can contact DTSC for information about cleanup at (844) 225-3887.  


[Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Jim Marxen simply as DTSC Director.]



Twitter @nancyreporting


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