In Los Angeles, organizer Patricia Castellanos led an unlikely coalition of the Teamsters Union, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and local public health and community groups to clean up the country’s largest — and until recently, the filthiest — port area. More than 40 percent of the goods that come into the country use the adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Ships and trucks spew toxic pollutants that result in high cancer and asthma rates, particularly in nearby communities and among the port’s more than 10,000 truck drivers. Every year, port-related pollution in greater Los Angeles causes 1,200 deaths — a statistic directly connected to the miserable working conditions for drivers, who cannot afford the high cost of maintaining their trucks.
“We realized that issues affecting workers and communities are inextricably linked,” explained Castellanos, 43, the daughter of Mexican immigrant factory workers and a graduate of California State University, Long Beach. After a two-year campaign by the coalition, the city’s Harbor Commission adopted the Clean Truck Program, which has reduced toxic emissions by 90 percent. The campaign, which has also improved conditions for some drivers, has sparked similar efforts in other ports across the country.