The labor dispute that caused massive bottlenecks at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach last year not only interrupted the economy, it also hurt efforts to clean the air.


The good news is that Long Beach’s annual report card on pollution released earlier this month shows the air is significantly cleaner than it was in 2005, a Long Beach Press Telegram article reports. However, the port backslid slightly between 2014 and 2015. Port officials say one big reason for the dirtier air is the 2.6 million hours big rigs and massive ships spent idle running their diesel engines as they waited in long lines for others to unload during the work slowdown.


“This highlights for us the continuing challenge to make sure we focus on these strategies on how we can make progress and move forward,” said Heather Tomley, director of environmental planning at the Port of Long Beach, in the Press Telegram article.


A report prepared by Seacrest Consulting Group highlighted an overall improvement in cutting emissions since 2005, when the port created goals to reduce the amount of harmful pollution. Emissions of particulate matter have fallen 84 percent since 2005. Another potentially harmful pollutant, the particle-forming sulfur oxide, decreased by 97 percent over 11 years, according to the report.


Port authorities attribute the overall reduction in emissions to a series of federal, state and port-centered initiatives, including the ports’ creation of incentives for vessel owners to slow down when pulling into the port. The initiatives allow ships to plug in for power instead of idling and sending pollutants into the air.


Despite the improvements, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the single largest fixed source of air pollution in Southern California. And the region continually fails to meet federal ozone standards.


“The ports are not moving fast enough,” Nidia Erceg, deputy policy director at Coalition for Clean Air, says in the Press Telegram article. She notes that a recent study found more than 2,000 Southern Californians die each year from polluted air.


“Those are the numbers that shock me,” Erceg says. “There are opportunities to make change here.”


In nearby Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has appointed an advisory panel tasked with reducing air pollution from the Port of Los Angeles by expanding the use of zero-emissions technology. The 10-member Sustainable Freight Advisory Board, made up of representatives from industry, environmental groups, labor and air quality agencies, will advise the city-owned port on how to work with manufacturers to develop and deploy cleaner trucks, trains, ships and cargo-handling equipment, the Los Angeles Times reports.


The air pollution is “an unacceptable price to pay for a bustling port, but we don’t have to choose between one or the other,” Garcetti said at a news conference at a port terminal. “We can have healthy communities and we can have a healthy port. We can have economic growth and clean air.”


Tomley at the Port of Long Beach says the ports have done a lot of work, including getting cleaner running trucks at the ports. Next year, a state rule will require 70 percent of all container and cruise ships pulling up to the dock must plug in, which should give a further boost to clean air. That said, she notes that the easy work has been done, and technological advances are needed to make further strides.


What’s interesting is that as ports along the U.S. Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard continue expansion to accommodate expected traffic moving through the expanded Panama Canal, one would expect concerns about air quality to grow as well. Granted, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach see more traffic, but continued construction and increasing traffic are bound to have some impact.


Whether you are near the ports of Los Angeles or Long Beach, or another port, what are your thoughts on air quality and increasing port traffic?