Ships Are Single Largest Polluter of Air at Port of L.A., Study Finds

Times Staff Writer

The Port of Los Angeles on Wednesday made public its first-ever list of air pollutants produced by port operations, but the report sparked questions from residents who have spent years fighting for more information about the contaminants emitted at the nation’s largest port.

The thousands of ships that call at the port each year are the single biggest source of air pollution at the complex, the report said.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. July 14, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 14, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 News Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Port pollution -- A photo in Thursday’s California section with a story about pollution at the Port of Los Angeles was misidentified as showing the L.A. port. The photo showed the Port of Long Beach.

The report is intended to be used as a baseline as city officials juggle the tasks of serving the ever-growing volume of cargo traffic at the port while also attempting to clean the air.

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn has promised Harbor-area residents that there would be “no net increase” in air emissions at the port, even as it expands.


The port complex remains a strong economic engine for the region. The twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are running at record levels for the third straight year.

Cargo ships are waiting offshore as shippers, longshoremen, trucking companies and railroads struggle to keep up with the increase, fueled largely by shipments from China.

Port officials hailed the report as a groundbreaking document.

One independent expert, Ed Avol, a USC professor specializing in environmental health, said he was impressed by how it inventoried pollutants in the area.

“It does represent probably the best available approach to emissions inventories,” he said. “It serves a very important purpose.”

The report and other data were presented to community residents Wednesday night at a meeting at the port’s headquarters in San Pedro. Some residents greeted it with skepticism. Some said, for instance, that the report underestimated emissions from trucks because of the technique used to measure truck traffic.

The hefty 265-page emissions report, brimming with technical charts and graphs, used modeling rather than actual testing to measure the specific amounts of port emissions in 2001. Emissions include nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide.

It studied pollution from five sources: oceangoing vessels, harbor craft, cargo handling equipment, railroad locomotives and heavy-duty vehicles.


The report does not recommend new programs or laws to reduce pollution.

Also Wednesday night, residents heard a presentation from a consultant who said the port accounts for 12% of diesel particulate matter in the region.

The Port of Long Beach generates about the same amount, meaning that the two ports together generate nearly one-quarter of the diesel pollution regionwide.

Port officials assured the audience that the report was part of larger plans to address pollution at the port complex and that more would be done.


The report was prompted, in part, by years of protest by residents of San Pedro, Wilmington and other communities close to the port who fear that pollutants are causing cancer, asthma and other lung diseases.

Their fears were spurred on by a 1999 report showing diesel emissions were responsible for 71% of the cancer risk from air pollution in the Los Angeles Basin.

The Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex is the single-largest concentrated source of air pollution -- including diesel emissions -- in the region.

The $425,000 report released Wednesday by Houston-based Starcrest Consulting Group focused solely on the Port of Los Angeles.


In the meantime, the ever-growing port, expected to triple in size by 2020, has been continuing to approve expansion projects, while the Starcrest report -- originally due last winter -- was delayed and not made public until late Wednesday afternoon.

“This report may turn out to be the best piece of science in the history of science -- but the way it’s been done only shows the problems in this process,” said San Pedro activist Noel Park before he saw the document.

In addition to the Starcrest report, a second report was released, billed as a “plan to achieve no net increase of air emissions at the Port of Los Angeles.”

A number of residents berated the second report, saying it was no more than a series of projections of how pollution might rise or fall based on existing and proposed regulations.