Globalization is profoundly changing the world's economy. In the U.S., the enactment of new free trade agreements, the downsizing of the American manufacturing base, and consumer demand for inexpensive products, coupled with the industrialization of China, have resulted in a dramatic increase in international trade, particularly from Asia to southern California. This affects the economy, employment options, transportation infrastructure, land use planning, environment and health.
As this shift in the world and U.S. economies occurs, environmental and health concerns are increasing, because moving imported goods from ports of entry to final destinations involves diesel-powered vehicles and equipment every step of the way, creating significant exposures and health impacts along the distribution corridors–impacts that are just beginning to be assessed.
Residents from California port, rail yard and distribution center communities have actively mobilized over the past 5 years to reduce the impacts of air pollution, demanding local, regional and state policy actions. Increasingly, residents in other communities (such as Vancouver, British Columbia Canada; Johnson County, KS; and Charleston, SC) have rallied to seek emissions reductions as well. More than 500 residents and non-profit group leaders from impacted communities, along with university scientists and others, came together at the “Moving Forward Conference” in Los Angeles in late 2007, where they formed a national/international network to share information on the impacts of ports and goods movement. Attendees voiced specific concern over the explosion of pending infrastructure projects to support growing international trade (marine terminals, highways, truck lanes, truck expressways, bridges, rail lines, and rail yards).
As we consider the current trends in international trade and goods movement from the Pacific Rim, we must also consider the need for improved information about impacts on both worker and community health, quality of life issues, disproportionate burdens leading to environmental justice scenarios, and the increasing tension between ever-increasing economic growth and finite infrastructural support.