More than a million people in the Los Angeles region are exposed to undisclosed, unhealthy levels of air pollution every day, according to a lawsuit filed Jan. 3 by Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and Communities for a Better Environment.
Pollution produced by the region’s millions of diesel and gasoline powered vehicles cause a heavy health burden for everyone living in Southern California, but evidence shows that it harms families and individuals living within approximately 300 yards of L.A.’s heavily-trafficked roadways even more. Although these families and other advocates have repeatedly asked for monitors to be placed along the roadways to determine exactly how much pollution comes from these roadways, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has refused to do so.
“How will the EPA protect us against air pollution if they won’t even measure how much is in the air?” asked Adrian Martinez, staff attorney with NRDC. “On many days, smog blankets our region as a result of the millions of tailpipes on our highways. People living near these freeways are at the greatest risk, yet lack adequate protection and the much needed air monitoring stations in these very obvious places with foul air. Regulators are actively avoiding this problem instead of addressing it, and that needs to stop.”
The federal lawsuit contends EPA violated the law by allowing the South Coast Air Quality Management District to ignore high levels of air pollution breathed by those living near freeways. NRDC and local advocates have sought to ensure air monitors are placed along the region’s highways to better inform the local air district about the hazardous levels of particulate air pollution, and to arm them with the information necessary to take action to protect the region’s residents.
“The science on this is clear,” said Martha Dina Arguello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. "People who breathe this polluted air suffer the staggering health impacts of air pollution at every phase of life. We know that women who live near heavy traffic roadways have a greater risk of having a low birth weight child and the child is more likely to develop asthma. Over a lifetime, living with this pollution also increases the likelihood of adult onset asthma, heart attacks, cancer and premature death. The evidence strongly suggests that people—especially children and seniors—who live near these roadways are exposed to much higher levels of pollution and therefore much more vulnerable to the impacts of pollution. It’s unconscionable that the EPA refuses to collect the information necessary to protect people’s health,” Arguello added.
Without monitors, regulators can ignore whether air quality for the more than 1.2 million people who live near high-traffic roadways despite the Clean Air Act’s mandate that all residents breathe healthy air. This litigation seeks to ensure that the EPA follows the letter.
“We’ve provided the EPA the studies that show that the air quality along freeways can be really bad—much worse than almost everywhere else. But they refuse to monitor our air. Why?” asked Mark Lopez of Communities for a Better Environment. “Monitors would allow all of us to know if there is a problem. If not—great! But if there is, we can work together to address it. We just want our children and families to be safe. Why won’t they collect the information needed to make sure that we’re safe?” added Lopez.
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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 1.3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Livingston, Montana, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org