The community that epitomizes the pollution warehouses can bring is Mira Loma.â€œOur quality of life is in the tubes,â€ said Gene Proctor, 73, who has lived in Mira Loma Village for 43 years. â€œI wish people shopping in Tucson, Arizona, in other places, I wish they could see the little kids around here, their respiratory problems.â€ His great-granddaughter has asthma, and his 3-year-old great-grandson, he said, â€œcoughs like a smoker.â€
Population 21,000, Mira Loma is so small and poor it doesnâ€™t have a movie theater, a community center, or even a moderately upscale restaurant. What it does have are 90 warehouses and a whole lot of big rigs: Trucks rumble through 15,000 times every day. In just half an hour on a recent afternoon, 269 trucks passed by the big plate glass window in the front of the Farmer Boys truck stop on Etiwanda Avenue.
That is more than one every seven seconds.
Avol, the professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine, began visiting the town in the early 1990s as part of a study of air pollution and childrenâ€™s health across Southern California. Back then, he said, researchers chose Mira Loma because it sits at the â€œend of the tailpipeâ€ of the Los Angeles basin, meaning the prevailing winds off the Pacific Ocean blow L.A.â€™s infamous smog east until much of it arrives in Mira Loma. So it was rural yet had a lot of ozone and smog. Other places in the study, such as Santa Barbara and Long Beach, were picked because they were thought to boast clean air or because they were in industrial areas.
When the study began, Mira Loma residents complained to researchers about the smell of dairy cows, herds of which clustered on vast pastures and cow yards. But in 1987, Riverside county supervisors revamped the general plan for Mira Loma, clearing the way for massive warehouse development.
â€œIn the course of a few years, the dairies disappeared,â€ and what had been â€œopen pasture became streets and warehouses, lined with trucks,â€ Avol said. â€œMira Loma turned out to be a very interesting place to study.â€
The trucks made the already bad air worse, bringing in diesel particulates, very small particles that can enter the lungs and travel to tissues throughout the body. They are associated with asthma, heart disease, neurological problems, and cancer.
In Mira Loma, children were found to be growing up with stunted lungs compared with children living in places with better air. Their lungs were growing at a rate that was 1 to 1.5% slower, Avol said, so that â€œafter their teen years, they were about 10 to 12% lower in lung function than children who had grown up in cleaner places.â€
He added: â€œWe have no information at this point that supports the idea that they ever catch up.â€
Studies from other Inland Empire communities are also dire. In a neighborhood near the BNSF rail yard in the city of San Bernardino, Loma Linda University researchers found that adults have more respiratory problems, and children alarmingly high rates of asthma, even when compared with other polluted communities.