Follow the Freeways: CalEPA Map Shows Long Beach, LA County Amongst Worst in Pollution

The California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) has released a highly detailed map and report listing the state’s most polluted census tracts. That’s right: pockets of just thousands of people are individually analyzed—and they include other socioeconomic “pollutions” such as unemployment and health care access to provide a relative—not absolute—measure of impact.

If one can see Los Angeles County from abroad, the indication is clear: follow the freeways, auto shop rows, and goods movement centers and one finds the most vulnerable areas of our space. Even more alarming, neighborhoods predominately Latino or African-American live in the areas most affected by pollution.


The red areas indicate areas which are in the top 10% most polluted in the state; the orange areas indicate the worst 11% to 20% in the state.

Long Beach was amongst some of the worst in the state in regard to:

  • overall pollution burden;
  • asthma;
  • diesel particulate matter (largely due to the Port and goods movement facilities such as rail yards and freeways);
  • toxic releases from facilities (industrial facilities including the Port, rail yards, auto shops, and manufacturing facilities);
  • cleanup sites (sites undergoing cleanup due to the presence of hazardous materials);
  • groundwater threats (activities which threaten groundwater quality, such as the storage and disposal of hazardous materials on land or in underground storage tanks);
  • hazardous waste facilities and generators (sites that serve for the processing or disposal of hazardous waste);
  • and solid waste sites and facilities (landfills, recycling facilities, composting and treatment facilities).

Called CalEnviroScreen 2.0, CalEPA noted that route-by-route or chemical-by-chemical assessment “are not well suited to the assessment of community-scale impacts, especially for identifying the most impacted places across all of California. Although traditional risk assessment may account for the heightened sensitivities of some groups, such as children and the elderly, it has not considered other community characteristics that have been shown to affect vulnerability to pollution, such as socioeconomic factors or underlying health status.”

The map itself is continually evolving as CalEPA receives more data while providing much more detail than the original CalEnviroScreen, which used zip codes rather census tracts (there are nearly 8,000 tracts while only about 1,800 zip codes).

Beyond the implications of Los Angeles County, which joined the worst in the state, Californians at any location can use the map to determine their area’s water quality, pesticide use, and a variety of other detrimental living affects.

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.