EDF Report: Air Pollution from Warehouse Trucks Places Unequal Burden on Communities of Color and Areas of Low Wealth

Growth of delivery brings more warehouses, diesel trucks and associated health impacts closer to communities

April 25, 2023
Lexi Ambrogi, (973) 960-0073, lambrogi@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – April 25, 2023) New research from Environmental Defense Fund on U.S. warehouse proliferation shows that some 15 million people live within a half-mile of a warehouse in 10 states across the country. The report, Making the Invisible Visible: Shining a Light on Warehouse Truck Air Pollution, provides a window into the burden of truck-related air pollution exposure experienced by people living in close proximity to warehouses—in many states, Black, Latino, Asian and American Indian communities and areas of low wealth are disproportionately exposed to this pollution. 

“As corporations taught consumers to expect just-in-time products and delivery, warehouses have moved closer to people’s homes in more communities than ever before, bringing harmful air pollution from trucks with them,” says Aileen Nowlan, EDF’s U.S. policy director, Global Clean Air Initiative. “It’s important to understand who is bearing the brunt of health burdens associated with living close to heavy truck traffic in order to develop and implement smart, targeted policies that protect public health and reduce emissions.” 

Mapping shows unequal burden 

EDF researchers combined warehouse industry data with a Geospatial information System (GIS) application known as Proximity Mapping, which applies areal apportionment to estimate the characteristics of populations living near specific facilities and pollution sources, using the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey 5-Year estimates. Among the findings of the 10 states1 EDF analyzed: 

  • Some 17,600 warehouses are located within 10 states; 

  • More than 1 million children under 5 live within a half-mile of warehouses; and 

  • Warehouse proliferation does not distribute the risk evenly. In some states like Illinois, Massachusetts and Colorado, the concentration of Black and Latino residents around warehouses is nearly double the state average.  

Diesel trucks bring harmful air pollution 

While warehouses can bring jobs and other economic growth opportunities to communities, they also attract diesel trucks and their harmful air pollution. Each warehouse generates hundreds, if not thousands, of truck trips every day, and trucks can emit more pollution while idling or traveling at slow speeds than while driving at faster speeds. 

Exposure to air pollution from these trucks is linked to a range of health issues, including the risk of developing childhood asthma, heart disease, adverse birth outcomes like premature birth and low birth weight, cognitive decline, and stroke. 

Affordable solutions exist today 

The report calls for several interventions, including increased air quality monitoring, that can provide a better understanding of air pollution around warehouses and help accelerate investments in zero-emissions goods transport.  

While the Energy Information Agency maintains a database of oil and gas infrastructure, nothing similar exists for current and proposed warehouses. More transparency around plans for warehouse expansion can help local leaders and communities plan for and address the challenges that come with these new facilities. 

Further, zero-emission options exist for delivery vans, yard trucks and regional haul trucks, and manufacturers are investing billions to expand zero-emissions for long-haul trucking as well. States and cities can spur the transition to zero-emission trucks through policies such as the Advanced Clean Trucks rule, easing permitting requirements for charging infrastructure installation and purchase incentives. 

Finally, EPA recently proposed tailpipe regulations designed to ensure that up to half of new urban delivery and freight vehicles sold by 2032 will be zero-emitting. Taken together with historic investments from the Inflation Reduction Act, these recent moves are turbocharging investments in clean trucks, charging infrastructure and job creation. 

“Communities deserve to know more about the businesses that operate near their homes and schools, especially if they pose a health threat,” Nowlan says. “Solutions exist today to reduce truck-related air pollution and protect public health. Greater transparency around warehouse locations and the pollution they attract is critical.” 

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One of the world’s leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 3 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF’s scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on Twitter @EnvDefenseFund