Health Hazards Linked to Warehouse Boom Ahead of Emissions Reduction Vote

May 3, 2021

A view of neighborhoods and warehouses from Sierra Avenue in South Fontana.
Credit Anthony Victoria/ People's Collective for Environmental Justice

Every summer, a blanket of smog settles in the Inland Empire, helping to rank the region’s air quality among the dirtiest in the nation. Now, a new report is raising concerns about how the logistics industry is contributing to this growing problem, and comes ahead of a vote on a rule aimed at cleaning up the industry’s emissions. 

The report highlights the cumulative effects of industry building warehouses in low income communities and communities of color, where truck traffic is linked to an increase in pollution. These communities have higher than average rates of asthma and cancer, said Ivette Torres, one of the report’s authors.

“Their health is being affected, their way of living, their quality of living," said Torres. "And it’s not about ‘not in my backyard’. Because we don’t want to push the problem into another community. It's more about the industry shifting the way they do e-commerce into a sustainable way.”

The report done in collaboration with the University of Redlands and the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice made several key findings. Including that Southern California’s 3,000 large warehouse facilities are in areas that have some of the highest toxic emissions in the state. Also, the populations that live within a half mile of a warehouse are 85 percent people of color. And over 600 schools also sit within a half mile of a warehouse.

Torres said the report provides a closer look at the daily lived realities of these communities before the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s vote on the Warehouse Indirect Source Rule this Friday, which she sees as a necessary solution. “It’s that first step into zero emissions and getting industry to really think, that’s a way to go where we need to stop impacting the communities that are working for us or are living by our industries,” said Torres.

Advocates say, if passed, the rule would be the first of its kind in the nation because it requires both new and existing large warehouses to take steps to reduce emissions each year from the heavy-duty trucks that move goods. There are 32 options to choose from to meet goals—like using zero emissions trucks or installing solar, otherwise warehouses pay a mitigation fee.

But the 13­­­­­­­00 members of the trade association NAIOP, that represents commercial real estate in Southern California, believe that fee is an unlawful tax on an industry made essential during the pandemic, said CEO Timothy Jemal.

“The approach has been, the industry is bad, we need to demonize them and then we need to somehow push this down the throat of warehouses, who by the way have no control for the most part of the trucks,” said Jemal.

He said they believe the rule is not feasible given today’s available technologies and warns the expense will lead to job losses. His group is calling for more time so the board can further study zero emissions options. “Our industry is interested in electrification," said Jemal. "We want healthy air quality just as much as every other person in the South Coast basin.”

The Air Quality District Board, which has spent the last three years developing the rule after multiple delays, plans to move ahead with the vote. At a recent meeting, board member Wayne Nestri said that their legal review of the mitigation fee found it to be lawful and that it is not a tax. Another board study found the rule as a whole would prevent hundreds of deaths and thousands of asthmas attacks over a nine-year period, and result in the public health benefits savings of up to $2.7 billion.

Adrian Martinez, a staff attorney with the environmental law group Earthjustice, also points out the rule would not go into full effect for three years, giving zero emissions technologies a chance to expand and the costs to drop.

“The other alternatives that are being put out there, are for the general taxpayers to pay to clean up this industry and I don’t think that’s fair," said Martinez. "This industry needs to clean up its own pollution. These companies like Amazon and Walmart, they have plenty of money and the real estate people who own a lot of properties have lots of money. This is a booming industry that made money during the pandemic.”

The board will vote on the rule during a public hearing on Friday May 7.