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Warehouse town locals fight to breathe

Caitlan Reeg May 11, 2010
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Steve Chiotakis: Mira Loma, Calif. is about 50 miles east of LA. It has some of the worst air pollution in the nation. Freeways and railroads are a big source of the problem, but researchers say warehouses also play a role. From the Sustainability Desk, Marketplace’s Caitlan Carroll reports.


Caitlan Carroll: I’m standing in Mira Loma Village. It’s a neighborhood of about a hundred small stucco houses. A rail line runs down one side. Two major trucking routes, Highway 60 and Interstate 15, intersect on the other. Residents say living here isn’t easy.

Charles Lanathoua: Hard to breathe sometimes and I call it respiratory problems, you know.

Alexandra Jimenez: We got headaches. Our nose would burn. We had soot all over our face, our body.

Estella Portillo: I’m out in the afternoon gardening and I have to go in the house because I can smell those fumes — you can smell them now.

That’s Charles Lanathoua, Alexandra Jimenez and Estella Portillo. This area used to be mostly farmland, but as Los Angeles expanded, companies built their distribution centers further east. Now sprawling warehouses cover Mira Loma. They serve companies like Walmart, Nestle and Coca-Cola.

More than 800 diesel trucks often pass through Mira Loma in an hour. Some drop off cargo from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Others pick it up. Ed Avol teaches Environmental Health at the University of Southern California:

Ed Avol: So increasingly we’re beginning to understand that in a way warehouses are like magnets for pollution.

Problem is, the county doesn’t have money to move residents or to pay the truckers to retro-fit their rigs. John Field works for the local County Supervisor:

John Field: Obviously from a land use planning standpoint if we had it to do over again, Mira Loma Village would not be there, but that’s the way it goes.

Penny Newnam heads the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. She says warehouses have cropped up here since the late 90s. Now the community wants to stop any new ones. Newnam encourages Mira Loma residents to speak up at county meetings. They’re helping log pollution stats, too.

Penny Newnam: It’s where the lessons are being learned really the hard way, and it’s where the crisis is.

Newnam is advising states with expanding distribution hubs like South Carolina, Kansas and New Jersey to put some space between the people and the products.

In Mira Loma, Calif., I’m Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.

Caitlan produced this story while participating in a California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship, a program of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

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