'The Fear of Dying' Pervades Southern California's Oil-Polluted Enclaves [psmag.com]

 

In their worst moments, the victims' faces are blue. Their skin is cool and damp to the touch. They are starving for oxygen. Pedora Keo, a critical-care nurse, sees them with distressing regularity: asthmatics in the thrall of attacks that can kill them or decimate their brains. Sometimes they fight while undergoing tracheal intubation and must be restrained. "They're panicking," says Keo, 42. "The look on their face is the fear of dying."

Keo works at St. Mary Medical Center, an Art Deco-style hospital on the west side of Long Beach founded by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in 1923. She treats mostly low-income people who live in the brown haze of coastal Southern California's industrial underbelly. Within six miles of the hospital lie five oil refineries, the sprawling ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and the truck-clogged 710 and 110 freeways. Los Angeles' Wilmington neighborhood, a nine-square-mile enclave of Latino immigrants just inland from the ports, gets the worst of it. Its 54,000 residents, many seeking refuge from steep housing prices, breathe some of the foulest air and suffer some of the highest rates of asthma in California. The 92,000 people in neighboring Carson—like Wilmington, working-class and heavily minority—fare no better.

Now, amid the Los Angeles area's worst smog season in at least 13 years, come new aggravations and anxieties. Andeavor—formerly Tesoro Corp.—plans to merge its Wilmington and Carson refineries into the biggest crude-processing complex on the West Coast. The $460 million project will involve, most notably, the construction of eight hulking storage tanks capable of holding 3.4 million barrels of oil. Meanwhile, state climate legislation endorsed by an unlikely amalgam of businesspeople, environmentalists, lawmakers from both parties, and Governor Jerry Brown has extended a market-based system of pollution-control that some fear will at best maintain the status quo or even make things worse for California's most vulnerable citizens.

[For more on this story by JIM MORRIS, go to https://psmag.com/environment/...il-polluted-enclaves]

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