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Dr. Gina Solomon of PHI Comments on New HHS Lead and Environmental Justice

President-Elect Joe Biden has chosen California attorney general Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. During his tenure in California, Becerra created the state’s first environmental justice bureau, and worked in support of local environmental justice groups in opposing expansion of the San Bernardino International Airport. Dr. Gina Solomon of PHI comments on the health risks community members face from air pollution around the airport.

  • New York Times
Xavier Becerra

Martha Romero felt that she had to send her daughters to safety.

She had seen air pollution grow worse in recent years as the truck traffic near her San Bernardino neighborhood increased so she made the difficult decision to send her three daughters to live with her mother, whose home is farther from the worst of the fumes and dust from the unending parade of trucks moving to and from nearby warehouses. “Unfortunately, we cannot keep them in an air bubble,” she said.

A coalition of local organizations is leading the fight against the expansion of the San Bernardino International Airport to accommodate Amazon’s burgeoning logistics needs with a complex that will bring more flights, more warehouses and even more truck traffic and pollution to her area. The coalition has an unusual ally: Xavier Becerra, the attorney general for the state of California, and the choice of President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. to run the Department of Health and Human Services.

Opposing the airport expansion plan is the work of the environmental justice bureau Mr. Becerra created in 2018, the first of its kind. Its focus: the unequal effect pollution and other forms of environmental damage have on health in the most vulnerable communities. While local officials, understandably, want to promote economic development, the bureau created by Mr. Becerra is saying that environmental justice needs to be part of the equation.

Xavier Becerra
If we’re concerned about environmental degradation, we should be concerned about the people who are hit first and worst.

Xavier Becerra, California attorney general

The links between air pollution caused by trucks and diseases that include cancer, asthma and cardiac symptoms are increasingly well established, said Gina Solomon, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and a principal investigator at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, a nonprofit group. She notes that estimates suggest that the San Bernardino airport project could add traffic from close to 500 trucks a day to an area already under a severe pollution threat.

Gina Solomon
That community is already seeing a higher risk of heart, lung and even stroke risks due to the levels of pollution right now, right there. This facility is like a very large piece of very rich cheesecake for someone who is already a walking heart attack risk.

Dr. Gina Solomon, Public Health Institute

Esther Portillo, organizing director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, one of the groups involved in the San Bernardino fight, said that winning would not mean shutting down development. Instead, she said, it would be to “take a hard look at the environmental impacts that we’ll have, and minimize those impacts as best we can.”

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear the airport case as early as February.

Click below to read the full story in the New York Times.

Originally published by New York Times

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