New filtration program is step toward cleaner air for West Oakland residents
on November 29, 2021
Shortly after Brian Beveridge moved to West Oakland in 1999, he noticed a greasy layer of black soot building up on his window shades and tabletops. It wasn’t hard to figure out where it came from, with diesel trucks from nearby industries driving through the neighborhood and expelling pollution into the air that residents were breathing.
Now, over two decades later, Beveridge is co-director for the nonprofit West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, where he works to provide solutions for West Oakland residents — especially those with chronic conditions.
This fall, the organization partnered with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the West Oakland Health Council to distribute portable air filtration units to low-income residents with respiratory illnesses. A month into the program, 18 units had been given to West Oakland Health Council patients.
“West Oakland residents have always been one of the most vulnerable populations,” said Steve Gardener, the Health Council’s director of communications and outreach. The area combats pollution issues that go beyond the poor air quality that wildfires bring, he added.
Three major freeways, the Port of Oakland and numerous industries spew pollutants over West Oakland. A health risk assessment by the California Air Resources Board in 2008 concluded that West Oakland residents’ exposure to the diesel particulates emitted by ships, trucks, trains and equipment was of “significant concern.” Regular exposure to these particulates is linked to various health conditions including respiratory illnesses, heart disease, and cancer.
People in West Oakland are also twice as likely than the average person in Alameda County to go to the emergency room for asthma-related incidents, according to data collected by the Alameda County Public Health Department from 2012-2014. And in a 2018 report compiled by BAAQMD, life expectancy in West Oakland was at 75, more than six years under than the county average.
“For many decades, we have tried to drive change by saying that people are sick, people are being poisoned, and people are being treated unfairly, and it hasn’t worked,” Beveridge said.
Since October, the West Oakland Health Council has been identifying recipients and coordinating air filtration unit distribution, as well as providing health education around the filters’ use. Currently, the program is limited to Health Council patients with chronic respiratory conditions.
The program is still in its infancy, said Maria Carr, who manages the Health Council’s Population Health Program. She and her team hope to track the health of those receiving the units over the next few months, then use that information to formulate a bigger distribution plan with BAAQMD and the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project.
For local leaders like Beveridge, who have advocated for environmental justice in West Oakland for decades, the program is another small step forward.
In July 2017, California passed a law requiring air monitoring plans for high-priority communities including West Oakland. The West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project developed the community action plan “Owning Our Air” with the support of BAAQMD and a steering committee. The plan outlines 89 strategies with goals that include making air quality in West Oakland as clean as the air in the average residential neighborhood by 2025, and as clean as the cleanest neighborhood by 2030.
“There is a lot happening. It’s not always easy to see it,” Beveridge said. “But there’s a tremendous amount of work being done that is building toward, really, new, imaginative, thoughtful, creative and beneficial changes in public policy and industrial activity in the coming decade or so.”
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