The Top Toxins in Long Beach & How They May Be Affecting Your Health

Aug. 24, 2013 / By

I always thought pollution was black smoke that came from factories and cars and that all I had to do was avoid breathing it when I saw it.

Never did I think there were times when pollution might not be seen or smelled. Nor did I know that it could travel for many miles creating health problems like asthma, cancer, birth defects, slow brain growth and more.

I didn’t know our city has one of the busiest ports in the nation and that the metropolitan region has the worst ozone pollution in the country for the last 13 years.

Roughly 40 percent of the country’s container imports, including cars, clothing and household items, mostly from Asia, pass through the two ports, making it the sixth-busiest harbor in the world, according to an April article by the New York Times.

Last month, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice held a two-part seminar that explored air pollution and how it impacts health. The workshop focused on the top toxins in Long Beach and how those toxins might be causing harm.

As I learned about the specifics of pollution, I met multiple people who were impacted by pollution. Like me, many of them lived on the Westside of Long Beach, where environmentalists argue is the most polluted area of Long Beach.

I feel sad that we have millions of cars, thousands of ships, and many people wanting a bigger and busier port. I wondered if anyone ever stops to see that we only have one planet and it is slowly dying.

While the Port of Long Beach announced this week that it has cut 81 percent of diesel particulates and 88 percent of sulfur oxides since 2005, traffic pollutants along Interstate 710 are still among the worst in the Los Angeles basin. 

Residents from Long Beach to East Los Angeles face a bigger pollution challenge since they live closer to factories and to freeways carrying trucks. These factors tend to expose residents to higher risk for cancer and cardiovascular health problems.

I thought that it was ironic the workshop was held in the 90813 zip code, an area in Long Beach that has been dubbed the “Diesel Death Zone.” It’s so named that because it is near truck high-traffic freeways and streets.

While we know the general term “pollution” and what it can mean for our community, we don’t necessarily know about the specific toxins in the air that we breathe in Long Beach.

For a more detailed look into specific toxins and the types of harm they can do to our bodies, see the list below.

Diesel:
Diesel exhaust is produced when an engine burns diesel fuel. It is a complex mixture of thousands of gases and fine particles (commonly known as soot) that contains more than 40 toxic air contaminants. These include many known or suspected cancer-causing substances, such as benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde. It also contains other harmful pollutants, including nitrogen oxides 
(a component of urban smog). Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment

Benzene
Benzene is a chemical that is a colorless or light yellow liquid at room temperature. It has a sweet odor and is highly flammable. Benzene evaporates into the air very quickly. Its vapor is heavier than air and may sink into low-lying areas. Benzene dissolves only slightly in water and will float on top of water. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in building materials and to produce many household products. Sources in the home include pressed-wood products, cigarette smoke, and fuel-burning appliances. Formaldehyde has been classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and as a probable human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. National Cancer Institute

Lead
Lead overexposure is one of the most common overexposures found in industry and is a leading cause of workplace illness. In general populations, lead may be present in hazardous concentrations in food, water, and air. Sources include paint, urban dust, and folk remedies. Lead poisoning is the leading environmentally induced illness in children. At greatest risk are children under the age of six because they are undergoing rapid neurological and physical development. United States Department of Labor

Perchloroethylene (also called PERC) –
Perchloroethylene is a colorless, nonflammable liquid with a sweet, ether-like odor that is primarily used for dry cleaning fabrics and degreasing metals. It has also been used to make other chemicals, including chlorofluorocarbons, and rubber coatings; as an insulating fluid and cooling gas in electrical transformers; and as a scouring, sizing, and desizing agent in textiles.

Short-term exposure to high levels of perchloroethylene can affect the central nervous system and cause unconsciousness and death. Long-term exposure may also damage the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys; it can also cause respiratory failure, memory loss, confusion, and dry and cracked skin. If you are pregnant, long-term exposure to perchloroethylene may damage a developing fetus. 
National Library of Medicine

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Adalhi Montes

Adalhi Montes

As a teenager, Adalhi began volunteering at many programs helping our communities become healthier and safer to provide resources to people in need. He was involved with Weed and Seed in Central Long Beach and is a youth mentor for the California Conference for Equality and Justice. Adalhi is also in the process of completing the neighborhood leadership program at the Advanced Organizing Institute and is studying Radio and television broadcasting at LBCC. In the future, he looks forward to joining the Marine Corps and continuing his education.