Deadly Air Pollution Has No Borde

PollutionDecember 14, 2018

pastedGraphic.png   There has been shortage of attention on the US-Mexico in the last few years. The smuggling of people, flow of narcotics, and surging numbers of asylum seekers from Central America make daily headlines across the nation. However, there is something else coming across the line separating Mexico and the United States which receives little notice, but is proving deadly. We are speaking of course, of air pollution. Air pollution has no boundary, no limit to its expansion except a cessation of the wind. It is causing considerable health problems in border communities and major towns just beyond them.   pastedGraphic_1.png   The World’s Largest Port San Ysidro, California lies directly across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. It is also the busiest border crossing in the world. Every day there are 70,000 northbound vehicles, and 20,000 persons on foot crossing.  All of that traffic is bundled into 25 lanes of constant gridlock. The transit time ranges from fifteen minutes to two hours. All of those idling vehicles create a lot of air pollution. A local non-profit organization called Casa Familiar is trying to get a better handle on just how bad the problem really is. They recently secured a $492,000 grant from the California Air Resources board to study the problem. These state funds will cover the cost of over 100 air quality sensors to be placed in over 50 different locations in the community. The expertise to run these sensors will come from scientists from The University Of Washington and San Diego State University. We eagerly await the results, but the anecdotal evidence is troubling. San Ysidro has an asthma rate eighteen times the national average, and forty one percent of residents live near a pollution source. And, the problem by no means stops in this one town. San Ysidro is part of the San Diego metropolitan area, which is home to over five million people. It is the eighth largest city in the United States. US-Mexico trade has grown ten-fold since 1990, with most trade goods coming north. There is no expectation that this is going to change in the coming years. As the volume of goods coming into the United States grows so do the number of trucks idling at the San Ysidro border crossing. The problem is therefore, far from over.    pastedGraphic_2.png   Mexicali Blues California has a second notable border crossing in Calexico. It lies about 115 miles to the east of San Diego. The Mexican down directly across the border is Mexicali. It is a metropolis of nearly one people, and a growing hub of industry. Steel plants and scrap metal yards have been multiplying in recent years to service a growing appliance industry. Many of these appliances are exported into the United States tariff free under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Manufacturers can take advantage of lower regulatory and labor costs in Mexico, but still peddle their wares to American consumers. Of course, industry means jobs, and jobs draw people from all over Mexico. The city, and the state of Baja California have struggled to keep pace. There are insufficient waste management facilities, which lead many Mexicali residents to simply burn their trash. Burning tires, household goods, and other waste items creates tons of air pollution which is dispersed over the border. Also, the regulatory regime is simply unable to deal with air quality problems coming from the plants. In many cases, regulatory agencies are hopelessly backlogged. When they do cite polluters, it is often less expensive to pay the fine than to fix the problem. And, the Federal Government of Mexico rarely has the jurisdiction to do anything.  This has led to real health problems both in Mexicali itself, and across the border. Calexico, CA and other cities in the surrounding Imperial Valley are facing a respiratory disease epidemic. Rates of COPD, asthma, and lung cancer dramatically exceed national averages. Mexicali is presently the sixth most polluted city in Western Hemisphere. Given the challenges of regulating air quality in Mexico, and the economics of the situation this is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.