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Power lines along an alley in the Barrio Logan neighborhood on Nov. 2, 2021. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

We learned this week that industries in San Diego emit cancer-causing toxins at one of the highest rates in California, but until now haven’t been required to make any changes. 

A long-standing rule has allowed industries to pollute enough that the risk of contracting cancer for people living nearby is up to 100 in one million. It’s a bit complicated and includes a range of factors, but essentially that means if one million people are exposed to the same amount of pollution over 30 years, it’s likely 100 people would develop cancer, as MacKenzie Elmer explained this week. 

The Air Pollution Control District voted unanimously Thursday to require industries to cut those cancer-causing air toxins tenfold, bringing that risk down to 10 in one million or less. 

Companies like General Dynamic’s NASSCO in Barrio Logan, which recently reported a cancer risk of 53 in one million, will now have five years to meet these new standards, with the opportunity for multiple three-year extensions. The new rule will also require them to notify the public of their risk more frequently. 

After Thursday’s vote I spoke with Julie Corrales, a Barrio Logan policy advocate with the Environmental Health Coalition, to learn more about local industries’ impact on the community. Corrales moved from City Heights to Barrio Logan in 2016, and said she didn’t know what toxic air pollution was at the time. 

“I get emotional now just thinking about it,” she said, recalling the first air quality meeting she attended. “I remember just crying and being like, ‘What? This is so unfair,’ and being livid learning that where the pollution happens is the same place that was redlined in the ‘30s, the same places with freeways put through them and the same places that Black and Brown people live.” 

Corrales now works with a team who have for years fought for an update to the Air Pollution Control District’s threshold for cancer-causing emissions, among other issues in the community. 

“It makes me happy for my kids and their future because they love it here,” she said, noting that five years is still a long time to wait for change. 

Corrales said her kids, who are now in their early 20s and looking for their own place to live, don’t want to leave Barrio Logan, although she mentioned that maybe they “should go somewhere else where the air is cleaner.” 

“If the neighborhood wasn’t so special, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so bad,” she said. “It’s like you have to pick between this place that’s really home, where you know you belong, and your health.” 

Continue reading: Learn more about air pollution in San Diego and see an interactive map of industries emitting cancer-causing toxins in Elmer’s latest deep-dive. You can also read more about the contention between environmental advocates and industry surrounding Thursday’s decision here 

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Want to be featured in this newsletter? Share your thoughts in the comment sections of our stories or on social media, or send me an email at megan.wood@voiceofsandiego.org. This newsletter is biweekly for now, so I’ll be back in your inbox Nov. 21. If you want to keep up with our work on a more frequent basis, check out the Morning Report. And if more newsletters aren’t really your thing, text with us. Send “VOSD” to (619) 374-5382 or sign up here.

Megan Wood

Megan is Voice of San Diego’s engagement editor. She is responsible for producing and overseeing content that extends the reach of the organization....

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