Air quality officials are getting ready to release a new strategy for monitoring air pollution on the Eastside, where toxic emissions from truck traffic and railyards creates hazards for residents.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) will submit a draft of its Community Air Monitoring Plan to the state government by May 1 following months of meetings with residents in areas heavily impacted by air pollution, including Boyle Heights.

The plan comes after lawmakers in 2017 required air districts to step up their efforts to combat commercial and industrial pollution. SCAQMD has reached out to some of the hardest-hit communities in the Los Angeles area to ask for their input on how best to implement the new law, AB617.

“How can businesses be willing to come to the table and engage with the community and not pass on that responsibility of being a neighbor, even if they don’t know if they have solutions or answers?” Jennifer Lahoda, a member of the Boyle Heights Chamber of Commerce, asked at a community meeting on April 25.

The new air monitoring plan is being introduced just weeks after Los Angeles was named the country’s worst metropolitan area for ozone-based air pollution, according to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” annual report.

SCAQMD held its first series of public meetings in February, focusing on the top issues residents wanted the air monitoring plan to address. For the area including Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and West Commerce, these included truck traffic, railyard emissions and warehouses.

Some of the new policies proposed in the plan will include air quality monitoring near major roadways, as well as greater enforcement of proper truck routes to keep commercial vehicles from traveling through residential neighborhoods.

At a second community meeting on April 25, officials addressed five other concerns: metal processing; household hazardous waste and toxic waste facilities; rendering facilities, auto body shops; and mitigation strategies related to schools and parks.

To reduce pollution from these sources, SCAQMD is planning to focus on mobile monitoring, using temporary sites that can be moved around multiple locations for faster and more efficient data collection.

At the meeting, officials addressed questions from residents who wondered whether new rules would be required to keep toxic pollutants out of the air or if SCAQMD instead planned to step up enforcement of current rules.

“If there are violations, we can take enforcement action,” said Jo Kay Ghosh, a health effects officer for SCAQMD. “But beyond that, sometimes a rule needs to be opened up and amended, because sometimes we find that there may be a gap, that there’s something we missed the first time around.”

Residents continued to raise concerns about pollution from truck traffic, however. Diesel exhaust makes up more than 85% of air pollutants in the Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles and West Commerce area — almost half of which comes from roadways. SCAQMD officials said one of their priorities was getting emissions-heavy vehicles off the road and replacing them with “cleaner” options.

“Diesel is killing us, but what can we do?” said one attendee at the April 25 meeting who identified herself only as Annabella. “How can we ensure that truck drivers have the technology that they need? I don’t know that we can continue waiting for years and years to come.”

Ghosh agreed, adding that SCAQMD would work to see how it can incorporate existing technologies, such as license plate readers, into its enforcement efforts.

“We need to see what’s available now and work toward having those systems in the future that can help us even more,” Ghosh said.

Photo by Praytino via Flickr.

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