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California Center for Ethics and Policy drafts in problems with pollution

By Janean Sorrell, April 12, 2022

Cal Poly Pomona’s California Center for Ethics and Policy held its third panel on climate justice, Just Air: California, Health and the Ethics of Repair, on March 18 to discuss the history of air pollution and policies to address it.

According to the American Lung Association State of the Air annual report, nine of the top 10 most polluted counties in the U.S. are in California with counties surrounding Cal Poly Pomona making the top of the list. Los Angeles County ranks No. 3, Riverside No. 2 and San Bernardino County No. 1 in ozone pollution.

Los Angeles County ranks among the most polluted counties in the country. (Courtesy of Nathaniel Villaire)

“It’s scary coming to terms with the pollution in the air because we’re breathing it at every second of the day,” said Alex Madva, an associate professor in the Philosophy Department and CCEP director.

According to the report, more than 40% of Americans live with unhealthy levels of ozone and particle pollution and “people of color are over three times more likely to be breathing the most polluted air.”

The panel, moderated by CCEP Faculty Fellow Nicole Lambrou, a lecturer in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, consisted of four discussants addressing the relationship between environment and human health and  questions about the ethics of repair and recovery.

“All of these (panels) are not so much about air or water, or whatever it is as an environmental issue, but about the climate justice implications,” said Lambrou. “So whatever panelist we bring, we’re always kind of putting the lens on how does this very important issue have implications for how we think about justice and equity. So, who are the people that are most affected, whose voices are not being heard?”

Discussant Fernando Navarrete, city of Wilmington’s public works deputy, who has lived in Wilmington, California, since the age of 6 talked about how the location of Wilmington is situated between the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach and what the shipping and trucking industry does to the community’s health.

Courtesy of Sven Piper

These ports not only bring in 40% of our nation’s products but with them comes pollution from the industry via ships, diesel trucks and traffic, as 40% of Wilmington’s properties is zoned for industrial use.

Navarrete noted that the ports are not the only problem his community faces. Wilmington lacks tree canopy and has the largest amount of individual oil wells in LA County. This is burdensome for the community which is 86% Latinx.

“The current pollution practices are basically poisoning the air that we breathe and that poison in the air has all kinds of effects on people’s cognitive abilities, their emotions, their health; whether it’s asthma rates or cancer, these different kinds of disorders are affecting people’s ability to be healthy,” said Madva.

According to Lambrou, the policy decisions that are being made might be better for the environment on a larger scale but that might not be the best policy.

“But when you scale it down and you look at the individual populations that are affected, that’s a very different question. It really puts this lens of justice on this topic of air quality and asks, ‘are we helping to mitigate this issue?’ Also mitigating the effects of this issue on certain vulnerable populations,” said Lambrou.

Discussant Bo Liu, project director from UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, focused on equitable transition to sustainable transportation.

According to Liu, California transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, counting for 90% at the national level and 41% at the state level.

Cal State Northridge Assistant Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Paloma Giottonini talked about how low-income sections of the city usually have worse environmental conditions that can cause medical aliments.

According to Giottonini, people spend 90% of their time indoors, which includes places like, homes, offices and schools. These indoor spaces have two to five times more pollution than the outdoors. This is due to factors such as airborne particles from dust and smoke, indoor formaldehyde from building materials, household orders and gasses from cooking and smoking, ozone from outdoor air and carbon dioxide from people exhaling and cooking.

CCEP’s final panel of the semester, Soil, Food and Justice: The Ecosystems of California will be held on April 15 with opening remarks provided by CPP Provost, Jennifer Brown.

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