Extreme air pollution choking Wilmington, California

World Today

In the United States, you’ll find some of the country’s worst air pollution in an area of Los Angeles known as Wilmington, California. CGTN’s Phil Lavelle investigates.

Wilmington, California is surrounded by pollution; hemmed in by two major freeways, two of the country’s busiest ports and five oil refineries.

The air quality shows that Wilmington has a pollution burden of 100, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. That’s the highest level possible.

Wilmington is home to the third-largest oil field in the United States. Drilling sites sit next to houses and baseball fields. Almost every street has a view of the industry.

Tammy Ramos and Nizgui Gomez are students who live nearby and explain to CGTN what impact it has on their lives.

“I just thought it was a normal thing. I had some skin problems and when I went to the doctor, my family had the same skin problems. They just said it was all because of the refineries but I never thought that was a thing”, Ramos said. “A lot of my classmates miss school often because of asthma and because of things like that, I had one time, two years ago, one of them fainted while running. He was right next to me.”

“I take the bus every day to school and when I take the bus, there’s so much smog from the trucks, the buses, everything and it’s affecting me slowly with my breathing. I used to go to a school right by the port, where they do the cargos and all of that. And it’s slowly affecting my breathing.. my skin, my hair.. I feel like it’s harming my life slowly, my body,” Gomez added.

Los Angeles and the nearby city of Long Beach have the worst ozone pollution in the country, according to a report last year from the American Lung Association. Wilmington’s asthma and cancer rates are said to be amongst the highest in the U.S.

For campaigner, Ashley Hernandez, who also grew up here, enough is enough.

“A lot of folks maybe feel like it’s a coincidence that all of the kids in the family have eye problems, watery eyes, scratchy throats, bloody noses,” she said. “Many folks feel it’s hereditary but what we really try to teach our community members is that these symptoms are really just what’s happening is because of these emissions you’re dealing with on a daily basis.”

California is reacting to the problem by extending its cap-and-trade program which limits the levels of greenhouse gases oil companies can emit and passed a bill called AB617, which orders air quality monitoring equipment to be installed in high-pollution risk areas.

The Western States Petroleum Association, which represents some of Wilmington’s oil companies, told CGTN: “There’s an unhelpful belief that the environment, public health, economic prosperity, and the oil & gas industry have to be enemies. California’s oil industry believes everybody should have access to energy that powers their daily lives at affordable prices. The questions we ask today influence our tomorrow, like, what impact does oil and gas have on clean air and water, and how could we work together to have an even more positive impact? WSPA supports climate programs like cap and trade and air quality monitoring programs like AB617 because they’ll have a profound impact on social justice, on the environment, on our shared prosperity in the communities we serve, and on our overall health and well-being.”