Port of Oakland air pollution violates the civil rights of the community – Feds to investigate

 

Photo: CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

Many of the effects of diesel exhaust and other traffic-related air pollution are known and widely accepted  – including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and triggering of asthma attacks. In addition, studies have shown that the more air pollution a person is exposed to, the more likely they are to suffer from many other maladies and illnesses, including premature birth, autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and cognitive decline.

To top it off, a study of 60 million adults release just a couple of weeks ago shows that Particulate matter air pollution kills many elderly people in the U.S., even at levels the EPA considers ‘safe’.

And study after study has shown that the people most often subjected to high levels of air pollution are disproportionally poor and non-white.  

Residents of West Oakland, California know all of this from first-hand experience.  Residents of this port community, who are predominately black and Latino, are exposed to much more air pollution than richer and whiter residents just a few miles away. West Oakland has 90 times more diesel pollution per square mile on average than the rest of California, resulting in high levels of asthma and other diseases known or suspected to be caused by air pollution.

After fighting for decades to make their communities safer and being ignored all too often by local government, West Oakland residents have made it clear they are not going to take it anymore.  In April, Moving Forward Network members West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) and Earthjustice teamed up to file a federal civil rights complaint demanding that the Federal government provide them the same levels of protection as people in whiter, richer communities, specifically when making decisions concerning the Port of Oakland the Oakland Army Base redevelopment project.

 “Time and time again, both the city and port have dismissed the consistent input and opposition to their actions from directly impacted West Oakland residents, nearly 80 percent of whom are people of color,” 

The complaint says the city has engaged in a “pattern of neglect and systemic disregard” for the health and well being of West Oakland residents, which will only get worse as the city redevelops the former Oakland Army base. And, it alleges the port’s continuous expansion of maritime activities has consistently failed to incorporate adequate measures to mitigate the elevated pollution levels. The complaint asked that the two Federal agencies that provide the funds and approvals for port projects put measures in place to protect them.  

This week, the agencies sent this letter to the City and Port of Oakland stating that they will investigate the complaint.

For more information, check out the resources below, and stay tuned for more news as it develops.

Community group alleges civil rights violations by the city and port of Oakland in complaint to Federal government, Earthjustice

When pollution discriminates: Feds to investigate alleged civil rights violations in West Oakland, Mercury News

A black community in Oakland says pollution is violating its civil rights, Grist

This army base once drove West Oakland’s economy. Now it drives discrimination, Grist

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