Longshore workers support community effort to fight air pollution

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 took a stand to support residents of Vallejo, California opposed to the construction of the Vallejo Marine Terminal and an adjacent cement production facility.

Residents are concerned that the proposed facility will increase air pollution, create more health risks, and lower their quality of life.

The people who will be most affected are those living in South Vallejo, a working class community where the majority of residents are Latino and African American.

At a recent media conference, Local 10 President Edwin Ferris explained why the union is opposing the project.

“ILWU Local 10 supports the citizens of Vallejo in their opposition to the proposed Vallejo Marine Terminal project,” said Ferris. “It would be quite irresponsible to support this proposed project at the expense of the health of the environment and the local community.”

Local 10 was joined at the media conference by local residents and environmental groups that are urging the Vallejo city council to reject the project. The city’s planning commission has already recommended that the project be rejected.

Orcem, an Irish company whose parent company is active in the European market making and selling cement made from ground granulated blast furnace slag, has proposed building the Vallejo project.

The company wants to construct a new marine terminal on the site of an abandoned grain mill, and a cement processing facility next to the terminal.

The terminal would receive ships from Mexico and Asia containing blast furnace slag, a rock-like waste left over from the iron- and steel making process.

The slag would be unloaded at the terminal and directed to the cement processing facility where it would be milled into a fine powder, which would then be turned into what the company calls “green cement.”

Orcem calls its finished product “green cement” because its production leaves a much lower carbon footprint than the production of traditional Portland cement.

The only problem is that the milling process, which turns the slag into a powder used to make cement, emits nitric oxide into the air. When nitric oxide combines with oxygen, it forms nitrogen dioxide.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nitrogen dioxide contributes to air pollution and can cause respiratory problems like asthma and other health problems.

Children and the elderly are especially at risk from the effects of nitrogen dioxide.

 

An Environmental Impact Report by city staff found that the Vallejo terminal project posed other threats to the community.

If the terminal and cement processing facility were to begin operating, 300 trucks a day would travel through the neighborhoods close to the terminal, generating more air pollution, traffic congestion, and noise.

The terminal would also depress property values in neighborhoods near the terminal.

Orcem was hoping that its promise of a green manufacturing plant and the new jobs that it would create would rally local support for the project.

The company estimates that the 15-month long construction project to build the terminal and cement plant would create 240,000 hours of union related construction work, which led the local labor council to support the project.

But the company has been more circumspect in predicting how many permanent jobs would remain after the construction work is done.

The terminal and the cement processing facility, both of which would operate 24 hours and day, seven days a week, would be highly automated; therefore, once construction is over, there is little likelihood of many permanent jobs remaining.

According to Fresh Air Vallejo, the environmental group leading the opposition to the project, there is a marine terminal and cement processing facility similar to the Vallejo project operating in Camden, New Jersey.

Owned and operated by the St. Lawrence Cement Company, it employs only 15 workers.

In return for these 15 jobs, the city of Camden receives 100 tons of air pollutants a year generated by the facility.

“We want something better than a toxic, 24/7 cement factory that will bring in shiploads of industrial waste to Vallejo’s waterfront,” said Peter Brooks with Fresh Air Vallejo.