April 26, 2012
As part of our 495 experience we were able to see the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on way to Catalina Island. Despite a lack of natural beauty, the sheer size of the ports, from the cranes to giant tankers and racks on racks on racks, can be awe-inspiring. Los Angeles would not exist in its current form if the LA River had not been supplemented with “sweet water” from the Owens Valley. Arguably, the port has had a similar effect on the development of Los Angeles, which was accounted for by early city planners. However, at what cost has this economic development affected the residents and environment surrounding the ports?
Ports can have large effects on air and marine ecosystem quality due to heavy industrial use in the area. Both boats and trucks travel to and from the ports regularly and have emissions, which are much less regulated than personal vehicles in California.
These types of emissions, especially the ultra-fine particulates, are known to cause various illnesses related to cardiac and respiratory systems (Dominici et al., 2006). The gaseous emissions are well known and contribute to the amount of ground-level ozone, acid rain and the greenhouse effect. Unfortunately, it is difficult to contain air pollution within the confines of the port and has effects on residents in San Pedro, Wilmington and West Long Beach (Waldie, 2012), residents that live along highways with increased traffic due to port trade and the workers of the port.
Ports also contribute a whole range of contaminants into the marine environment. Ships often introduce contaminants by using anti-fouling chemicals, spilling oil/gas/diesel into the water during refueling and operation or as paint breaks down to name a few. Many of these pollutants affect the health of marine organism and humans’ enjoyment of the resource (people recommend against going swimming at the beach near downtown Long Beach). A breakwater is an important structure near ports and harbors, as they reduce wave action allowing for easier docking and unloading of ships (E.B., 2012). Unfortunately these structures intensify issues regarding marine pollution by reducing water exchange between port and ocean, which has been demonstrated to concentrate marine pollution. “ This factor [limited water exchange], combined with sewage runoff from the coast and intensification of activity in the commercial port, accounts for significant water eutrophication and accumulation of pollutants in bottom sediments” (Selifonova, 2009).
Another significant source of port pollution, although not as common in the United States as developing nations, is the business of ship building/repair/recycling. However, I felt it particularly relevant as the last time I returned from Catalina the smell of burning steel was wafting Miss Christi’s way from Al Larson’s Boat Shop. Pollution from this activity is well documented (Chang et al., 2010; Coffin, 2003) and measures are taken to reduce its effects where the activity is practiced. For example, the boats at Al Larson’s were dry-docked and their ramps were surrounded with floating booms, although somewhat haphazardly. However, were there to be a rain event most of the wastes would be washed into the water and the boom would limit pollution that floats but does little for heavy metals, one of the most common pollutant from boat repair, many of which are more likely to be deposited as sediment or become aqueous than remain on the surface (Maata & Singh, 2008).
These factors are related to the volume of traffic that the port receives. Both the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach have historically been some of the highest volume ports in the United States.
While the economy has certainly been stimulated by this activity, Los Angeles and Long Beach have endangered the health of their and surrounding communities, reduced recreational opportunities and altered the ecology and coastal morphology of the region.
In an attempt to mitigate the environmental impacts associated with ports, the Ports of San Pedro have developed plans focusing on reducing pollution. The Port of Long Beach adopted a Green Port Policy in January 2005 while the Port of Los Angeles initiated an Environmental Management System in 2003. These environmental management policies aim to engage the community, the port staff, and the customers, all while promoting sustainability, employing the best available technology and practices, monitoring performance, and complying with all environmental regulations. Some of the specific goals of the Green Port Policy are protecting wildlife, reducing harmful emissions, improving the quality of the water, and removing and treating the soils and sediments in the harbor.
One of the biggest accomplishments achieved under these environmental management plans is the Clean Air Action Plan. This plan focuses on reducing emissions from all five main port sources; trucks, vessels, cargo handling equipment, harbor craft, and rail. Highlighted in these plans are two long-term goals:
- By 2014, reduce port-related emissions by 22 percent for Nitrogen Oxides, 93 percent for Sulfur Oxides, and 72 percent for Diesel Particulate Matter.
- By 2023, reduce port-related emissions by 59 percent for Nitrogen Oxides, 92 percent for Sulfur Oxides and 77 percent for Diesel Particulate Matter.
The four main programs initiated under the Clean Air Action Plan are the Technology Advancement Program, the Alternative Maritime Power program, the Green Flag Program, and the Clean Trucks Program. Under the Technology Advancement Program, technology that has a high probability of reducing pollutants are researched and tested for commercial success. One of these new technologies is the hybrid tug boat system, which pulls larger vessels and container ships into docks in order to prevent them from running their larger, and higher polluting engines. Additionally, through the use of Alternative Maritime Power, container ships can use shoreside power at the terminal to unload cargo rather than continually running their energy intensive diesel engines.
The Clean Trucks Program is attempting to improve air quality in the community and for the greater Los Angeles area through easing into a ban of older, dirtier trucks. All trucks manufactured before 2007 are not permitted to operate within the ports. Both Ports expect that the use of newer and more efficient trucks will eliminate a large percentage of air pollution. The last Clean Air Action program is the Green Flag Program, which focuses on vessels coming into the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of San Pedro. Basically, this program ensures that emissions are reduced within a 40 mile limit from the ports by restricting ships from traveling faster than 12 knots. A speed reduction means a reduction in energy used by the ships and ultimately reduces fuel and therefore pollutant emissions as well.
Since the adoption of the Clean Air Action Plan in 2006, both Ports have compiled an Emissions Inventory to calculate emission levels by year from 2005 to 2010, all of the main air pollutants from port sources were reduced. At the Port of Long Beach, in addition to a 72% decline in diesel particulates from 2005 to 2010, sulfur oxides fell by 73%, smog-forming nitrogen oxides lessened by 46% and greenhouse gases dropped by 18%. At the Port of Los Angeles, diesel particulates declined by 39% from 2009, NOx emissions were down by 25% and SOx emissions fell by 45%.
These numbers reflect not only a significant change in port impacts, but an overall change in goals and progress for the future. In previous decades the surrounding communities have had to suffer and bear the burden of port pollution. This community found it difficult to challenge the San Pedro Bay Ports due to their importance to the regional and national economy. Now and looking into the future, the San Pedro Ports have promised to work together with the community to clean up their acts and encourage cleaner proposals and development.
Authored by Dan Kasang, ’12 who is graduating with a BS in Environmental Studies, and Patrick Talbott, ‘12 who is graduating this spring with a BS in Environmental Studies and is pursuing a Progressive Master’s in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Sustainable Cities.
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