Boxer applauds ER doctor’s testimony at ship hearing
On August 9, ER Dr. John G. Miller was the last witness to testify at Senator Boxer’s hearing on the “Marine Vessel Emission Reduction Act of 2007.” He was the only witness she applauded.
Tom Politeo/Harbor Vision Task Force
Dr. John Miller waits to testify in Boxer’s Senate field hearing held in the Port of Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners hearing room.
Web Extras • Boxer photo gallery • Witness photo gallery • Links to complete testimony
The following is excerpted from Miller’s testimony. To read or listen to his complete testimony and find a link to the Senate web page on the hearing, please visit the Senate hearing site. Dr. Miller is an emergency physician who has practiced for more than 30 years and is a resident of San Pedro. Here, he address Senator Boxer:
Welcome to the “Diesel Death Zone”. We are right here. As demonstrated in the MATES- II study, we have a broad swath of severe air pollution that extends from the ports inland across the Air Basin that adversely affects the lives and health of over 14 million citizens. This area has come to be known as the Diesel Death Zone. This ugly swath disproportionately affects lower income communities and minorities in places such as Wilmington, Compton, Carson, South Central and East L.A
The medical literature on the effects of air pollution on human health is vast and growing.
We estimated this region’s year 2004 Port related health care costs at $2.55 billion with $1.4 billion of this attributable to ship exhaust alone. That is only for one year.
California is massively subsidizing this industry when these externalized costs are considered.
These are disturbing numbers. However my point is that real people are getting sick and dying.
The first person I saw die from asthma was when I was a medicine intern at L.A. County General Hospital. On a smoggy day a 22-year-old woman came in with a severe asthma attack. She died before we could save her. It turned out she was the sister of one of our respiratory therapists! I will never forget having to tell her sister.
It keeps happening.
Recently, on a routine busy night in the ER we got a sudden call from the paramedics. They were bringing in a 14-year-old boy in full cardiopulmonary arrest due to an asthma attack. Two minutes away. We got as prepared as we could in 120 seconds and soon we were in the hand-to -hand struggle with death and destruction we often fight.
This child survived despite the severity of his condition.
But in many cases, the person does not survive.
At 1:30 one July morning three years ago, in the ER, I saw a 55-year-old woman complaining of left chest pain. She feared she was having a heart attack. My initial evaluation ruled out a myocardial infarction (heart attack) but unfortunately I found something far more ominous than a “mere” heart attack. Her chest x-ray showed a large tumor mass in her left chest. I feared cancer, but this lady had no risk factors for cancer other than having breathed the air here all her life (no history of smoking, radon gas exposure, asbestos exposure, second-hand smoke at work). Unfortunately, my fears were proven correct by further evaluation. It was lung cancer and it had spread to the area around her heart and her brain. She died 6 months later. In my opinion she died from air pollution.
Enactment of this bill will prevent many needless premature deaths and enormous related costs in America.
The point here is that we are not just talking about “numbers”. Real people are sick and dying.
“But enactment of this bill will send the freight to other ports and destroy many jobs here!” This is one standard response from industry to any proposals that would seek to limit their ability to burn the cheapest, dirtiest fuel in their ships.
The best response to this was actually provided by the Port of Los Angeles. In a recent Draft Environmental Impact Report for a major terminal expansion/increased throughput project, the options of diversion of cargo to other West Coast ports inside and outside Southern California was considered and studied. The Port concluded that this is simply not possible because the facilities to do this simply do not exist and “are not being contemplated” by other major West Coast ports. In Southern California sufficient capacity outside Port of LA/Port of Long Beach “does not exist and cannot be constructed”. According to POLA’s own studies, the freight must come through these 2 ports. Put bluntly, the shippers need to be able to use these two ports more than the ports need the freight from the shippers.
“But it will cost way too much. Consumers costs will go way up!” We are indebted to the Maersk Corporation for proactively adopting the use of low sulfur diesel fuel in ships serving their Pier 400 facility, demonstrating that the cost of this is not prohibitive. Additionally, Mr. Jesse Marquez with Coalition for a Safe Environment calculated that even if costs went up $100 per container (an increase of $200.000 in a 2000 container ship) the net increase in cost to consumers for, say a pair of sneakers, would be 25 cents.
Thus measures such as this legislation that may increase some costs to shippers but protect the health of Americans should be acceptable, enacted, and enforced.
You can read and listen to Dr. John Miller's complete testimony, as well as those of all the other witnesses at the hearing here.