EDF and our partners are still analyzing the air pollution data collected in Oakland to better understand the health impacts of the pollution we measured. But what we already know about health indicators in West Oakland raises troubling concerns.
Pollution is not evenly distributed
West Oakland and Downtown Oakland communities are exposed to higher levels of air pollution than residents of other parts of Oakland. Local regulatory monitors consistently show higher average levels of air pollution in West Oakland compared to other parts of Oakland and surrounding cities.
A 2008 California Air Resources Board (CARB) health risk assessment [PDF] found that West Oakland residents are exposed to air concentrations of diesel pollution that are almost three times higher than average “background” levels in the Bay Area, and that 71 percent of air pollution risk was attributable to truck traffic.
Worse health in more polluted areas
A study by the Alameda County Public Health Department found the health of West Oakland and Downtown Oakland residents is poorer than the health of residents in surrounding areas by several indicators:
- West Oakland and Downtown Oakland communities have two times higher rates of asthma emergency room visits [PDF] compared to overall Alameda County rates, and Alameda County has higher rates in comparison to other counties in California.
- West and Downtown Oakland populations also have higher rates of stroke and congestive heart failure [PDF] in comparison to other parts of Alameda County.
- Residents of the Oakland Hills neighborhoods are expected to live up to seven years longer [PDF] than those from the flatland in West and East Oakland.
While many factors contribute to these health disparities, studies show that exposure to higher concentrations of air pollutants — like black carbon, NO and NO2 — are associated with greater risk of heart disease, stroke and asthma. Further, these pollutants are associated with poorer health at every stage of life, from pregnancy and development in the womb to heart attacks leading to death.
Questions of environmental justice
The higher air pollution exposures of people living in West and Downtown Oakland raise questions of environmental justice. Census data shows that both of these neighborhoods have a high prevalence of poverty and a higher proportion of minority populations.
Lower-income communities often suffer a heavier health burden from pollution exposure due to higher in-home pollution exposures from lower housing quality, less ability to control their exposure through the placement of air filters in homes, and decreased access to clean work environments. Health problems like stress, diabetes and poor nutrition, which are also common among low-income populations, can exacerbate the effects of air pollution.
You can help: Make your voice heard!
Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and you can make a difference by advocating for common-sense solutions to reduce levels of harmful air pollution.
If you live in California, write to your state leaders in support of the Sustainable Freight Action Plan.
If you live elsewhere in the U.S., speak up for national safeguards for clean air.
And get involved in your community:
If you live in Oakland, connect with local groups like the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), who can help you take action on issues that affect Oakland air quality.
If you live elsewhere, find a group working near you. For example, Moms Clean Air Force, a national group of more than a million parents, organizes communities to protect clean air and our kids’ health in 20 states.