Coronavirus Has Reduced Air Pollution, But Not The Risk In Some San Diego Communities
Speaker 1: 00:00 San Diego's most at risk neighborhoods saw an improvement in air quality when the COVID-19 shutdowns began, but pollution levels are already climbing back up. KPBS environment. Reporter Eric Anderson says neighborhoods near the border and industrial areas face a persistent pollution related health risk. Speaker 2: 00:20 Sandy neuron ho noticed the difference right away, Speaker 3: 00:23 you know, freeways open. We don't see traffic. Speaker 2: 00:26 The Barrio Logan mom says the COVID-19 shutdown had an immediate impact on her neighborhood. Her observations are born out by state transportation numbers, which found the stay at home orders. Cut freeway traffic in half in March and early April. Speaker 3: 00:41 But what you do see is still goods coming through Speaker 2: 00:46 goods, coming through means truck traffic, typically the more polluting diesel engines, but the change is welcome for a woman who has suffered with severe asthma. Since she was three, Speaker 3: 00:57 I have noticed that the air has been cleaner. Speaker 2: 01:00 San Diego air pollution was down 31% during the first five weeks of the COVID-19 shutdown, a California based firm recorded significant drops in levels of ozone carbon monoxide, fine particulate matter and nitrogen Speaker 4: 01:14 dioxide, no surprise given, uh, you know, we've been seeing that around the state and everywhere that we've looked at data, Melissa London is the chief scientist for the pollution monitoring from Aclima. She says, uh, rainy spring contributed to the cleaner air, but that wasn't the only driver. I think we expected nitrogen dioxide to, uh, decrease in carbon monoxide, um, Knox, um, co uh, because those are really pollutants that directly reflect combustion sources simply stated there were fewer cars on the road because of the pandemic. Her company drove hybrid vehicles, carrying mobile monitors on every street in San Diego's, downtown and industrial waterfront. Since 2019, the firm also measures air pollution in San Ysidro and Escondido. We drive every street in that area multiple times, uh, over different times of day and days of week to get, and sort of average concentration of the air pollution on that street, like outside your house, outside the school, the state pays acclimate to track air quality and California's most polluted neighborhoods, Barrio Logan, West national city, and Sandy Seadrill are among them. London says commercial traffic at the ports, 10th Avenue terminal, and the international border crossings still put large amounts of black carbon into the air. Those communities in particular really didn't get that much of a break. David Flores works with a national city-based environmental health coalition, the group fights to clean the air and those predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods. We know that that research is pointing to the fact that these communities that have already been enacted bye, poor air quality are a higher risk factor Speaker 5: 03:00 or something like a COVID [inaudible]. Speaker 4: 03:03 So those neighborhoods don't get the benefit of cleaner air linked to COVID-19 shutdowns because they're longterm exposure to air pollution means they're at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19 infections. Florida says that's why local officials need to act. He sees a mixed pallet of effort. Speaker 5: 03:23 We're really excited and glad that the air pollution control district and the port of San Diego are starting to look for solutions. And we're, we're working very collaboratively to find them, but we're not seeing as much advancement as a cross border issue. You're taking this seriously with health Speaker 4: 03:41 Flores says cross border commercial traffic hit record levels last year, and it hasn't fallen off a lot during the COVID-19 pandemic. That means pollution from big rigs continues to impact at risk neighborhoods like Sandy Sedro and Barrio Logan and Barrio. Logan is where Sandy neurono is raising two kids. Speaker 3: 03:59 You can see in my neighborhood, it's still ranked within the top 15%, most polluted neighborhood in California. So that means my kids have a good chance of being diagnosed of asthma or any other, uh, disease that's linked to Speaker 2: 04:16 clean air advocates, want local officials to give the air pollution problem, the same attention they give to COVID-19 because they say years of exposure to dirty air makes pandemics like the coronavirus even more dangerous in San Diego's, urban neighborhoods, Eric Anderson, KPBS news.