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Wilmington-area schools to get air filters in bid to cut asthma

The effort aims to reduce the effects of pollution from the Port of Los Angeles on children at more than 40 campuses.

January 12, 2011|By Margot Roosevelt, Los Angeles Times
  • Trucks travel through Wilmington. In five harbor communities 21.9% of children have asthma, compared with 15.6% in the Los Angeles region, research has shown.
Trucks travel through Wilmington. In five harbor communities 21.9% of… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

Air filters will be installed in more than 40 Wilmington-area schools in an effort to alleviate asthma linked to pollution from the Port of Los Angeles, air quality officials announced Tuesday.

The $5.4-million contract is part of a landmark 2008 settlement between environmental groups and the city of L.A., after community opposition threatened to halt a $274-million terminal expansion at the port.

The settlement, negotiated by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Coalition for a Safe Environment and other groups, led to the creation last October of a $50-million trust fund for Wilmington and San Pedro to offset the effects of pollution from the movement of goods. Extending the filter program to San Pedro will depend on future funding, officials said.

More than 40% of the nation's imported goods move through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, causing extensive air pollution from the diesel-powered engines of ships, cranes, trucks and trains.

In five communities around the ports, 21.9% of children suffer from asthma, compared with 15.6% in the Los Angeles region and 14.2% nationally, according to state and federal studies. Children are most vulnerable to pollution-triggered asthma because their lungs are still developing.

In a separate initiative, the South Coast Air Quality Management District announced that it is soliciting proposals for $110 million in projects to reduce port emissions, including alternative power sources on shore for idling tankers, ship pollution-control equipment, electric power conversions for gantry cranes and replacement of diesel trucks with electric vehicles.

That funding comes from Proposition 1B, a 2006 bond measure that authorized $1 billion to cut pollution from freight movement statewide.

Environmentalists hailed the installation of school filters but noted that as indoor systems, they offer no protection for children playing outside. Activists continue to push for steeper cuts in pollution at its source.

"Children also need clean air when they aren't at school," said Adrian Martinez, the Natural Resources Defense Council attorney who helped craft the settlement.

Considerable progress has been made on that front, with recent city and state programs forcing haulers to replace older trucks with newer, cleaner models.

AQMD spokesman Sam Atwood said the filters would be installed over two years, after consultations with community groups and schools to determine the priority of campuses to be retrofitted.

Filters will also be installed at six schools in Long Beach and Los Angeles, four schools in San Bernardino and seven schools in Boyle Heights from funds levied through penalties against Valero Energy Corp. and Unocal for pollution violations.

margot.roosevelt@latimes.com

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