Pacific Institute

Deluged by Diesel: Healthy Solutions for West County

Hugging the San Francisco Bay, in the shadow of a major oil refinery, and surrounded by industry, freeways, and rail yards, sits the community of Inner West Contra Costa County. As this report will show, the residents of this area (which we will call Inner West County for the sake of simplicity) are exposed to far more than their fair share of pollution. However, the good news is that there is a wide range of practical solutions that can cut the amount of pollution in the air and protect families without harming the economy. This report focuses on reducing diesel air pollution, which poses the greatest cancer risk to California residents. According to the most up-to-date research, diesel pollution is linked to cancer, heart disease, premature death, and other health problems. Other research shows that diesel soot can trigger and may even cause asthma.

Sources of diesel pollution in the area include trucks, trains, ships, buses, and construction equipment. Unlike industrial complexes that have a massive presence on a community’s landscape, the burden of diesel pollution is harder to track. There isn’t a single, fixed smokestack emitting pollution, but thousands of smaller, mobile smokestacks – the exhaust pipes on trucks, buses, and other diesel equipment. And, these sources of pollution are often closer to people than other industrial facilities, posing a greater risk to residents.

All together, mobile sources of pollution in Contra Costa County are responsible for over 90 percent of the additional cancer risk due to air pollution. Most of this additional risk is from exposure to diesel pollution and especially the tiny particles known as “diesel particulate matter.”

While diesel pollution is a concern everywhere, we often see diesel pollution concentrated in predominantly low-income communities and communities of color like Inner West County. Our research finds that more diesel pollution is emitted in Inner West County per square mile than the average for the Bay Area and California. We also find that there are a host of solutions that can be implemented right away to reduce this pollution and protect the health of residents.

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