Where does all that stuff come from?

It’s hard not to ask yourself that question in the midst of holiday shopping surrounded by hundreds of stores and probably billions of products. The answer is complicated but it’s pretty safe to assume that most of “Santa’s stuff” was made outside the United States.

That means many of the things we purchase for our daily lives (food, consumer goods, appliances, building materials) were transported by ship or truck to one of the 150 U.S. ports of entry. Many of these goods enter California through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach but an increasing amount is coming through the port of San Diego’s Maritime Terminals in National City and Barrio Logan.

In fact, in 2006 over 3 million tons of fruit, meat, sand, windmills, and nearly 500,000 cars were shipped to and trucked out of San Diego’s terminals from the Pacific Rim, Australia, Chile, Canada, Russia, Latin America, Mexico, and New Zealand. The Port’s growth has averaged 14 percent over the last three years, and the recently released Port Maritime Business Plan anticipates a three-fold increase in cargo by 2030.

Sounds good — jobs and economic vitality. But, we’re paying a high price in air pollution, asthma, and worker health and safety.

Have you ever wondered what’s in that black stuff spewing from the tractor-trailer in front of you on the freeway? Diesel emissions are deadly pollutants which slow children’s lung growth, worsen asthma and cause cancer, heart disease and higher death rates.

Long-term occupational exposure threatens workers with a 40% increase in lung cancer risk. (OEHHA, 1998. Findings of the Scientific Review Panel on The Report on Diesel Exhaust as adopted at the Panel’s April 22, 1998, Meeting.) The California Air Resources Board estimates that about 2.8 tons of diesel pollution is emitted from diesel trucks, ships and harbor craft everyday.

The good news is that, following the state’s lead, the port of San Diego is developing a Clean Air Plan to reduce pollution from trucks, ships and cargo-handling equipment.

Environmental Health Coalition supports the fundamental plan, but the real test will come this year when the Port develops the actual programs and policies that set the Clean Air Plan in motion. Hopefully, before the next holiday season fills the Port with goods, Barrio Logan and Old Town National City residents and maritime workers will be assured by the enforcement of a clear plan reducing air emissions significantly in the next five years.

Old Town National City resident José Medina’s plea to the Port expresses the hopes of many, “I want our children to have the same rights as anyone else in San Diego County: clean air and a life without lung problems. I want the Port leaders to keep this in mind as they make plans to mitigate the effects of Port activity.”

— DIANE TAKVORIAN

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