Residents around transportation hubs face increased health and environmental risks as ports and related facilities grow

Report calls for policies to protect against the impacts that hit low-income neighborhoods the hardest.

Troy, Michigan
Originally released April 14, 2011

A special report funded by The Kresge Foundation presents strong evidence that the rapid expansion of the global trade and freight-transportation system is causing negative health, environmental, workplace, and community impacts, which disproportionately affect low-income residents living near ports, railroads, freeways, and distribution centers. These problems have not been adequately addressed by public policy changes, because government-intervention decisions are heavily influenced by powerful economic and political forces lobbying on behalf of the goods-movement industry, the authors say.

The report details wide-ranging efforts by community organizers to mount campaigns in support of clean air, good jobs, livable neighborhoods, and greater resident and worker involvement in decision-making processes. However, much more needs to be done to forge and promote public policies that integrate protective measures for community and worker health into goods-movement planning and project approval, the authors conclude. 

The report, “Global Trade Impacts: Addressing the Health, Social and Environmental Consequences of Moving International Freight through Our Communities,” was prepared by faculty and staff from the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute of Occidental College in Los Angeles and several programs at the University of Southern California. Kresge awarded the institute a $163,306 grant in 2009 to identify, analyze, and evaluate the health, environmental, and community impacts of ports and the movement of goods; and to make recommendations for intervention.

The report, released in April 2011, sheds light on the nature and magnitude of the environmental health risks posed by a vast logistics and distribution infrastructure. It also suggests strategic pathways leading to improved health outcomes for vulnerable populations – a major objective of Kresge’s Health Program, according to David D. Fukuzawa, Heath Program director.  

>> Read the entire report, “Global Trade Impacts: Addressing the Health, Social and Environmental Consequences of Moving International Freight through Our Communities.” (PDF)

The Kresge Foundation’s support of this research helped to piece together a critical framework for understanding the important, and often ignored, consequences of global trade and freight transport on our communities and our health,” says Martha Matsuoka, a principal author of the report and assistant professor in Occidental College’s urban and environmental policy department.

Professor Matsuoka and her colleagues studied the freight/cargo facilities, organizational resources, economic situation, and industry trends in 17 of the largest regions where the goods-movement system is undergoing rapid expansion and communities are confronting elevated health and environmental risks. These regions encompass major U.S. seaports and intermodal hubs in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Riverside, and San Bernardino, California; New York and New Jersey; Houston; Miami and Port Everglades, Florida; Detroit; Chicago; Kansas City, Missouri; and other coastal or inland cities.

Based on interviews and research, the report’s findings reveal that community residents and workers in the affected areas share similar health and quality-of-life concerns related to air pollution, noise, lighting at port and rail operations, conflicts between incompatible land uses and public health, and the potential for hazardous spills and traffic congestion. On a broader scale, goods-movement activities also contribute to global warming through significant emissions of carbon dioxide, black carbon, and other pollutants produced by diesel-fueled marine vessels, yard equipment, trucks, and locomotives.

The disparities in health, environmental conditions, economics, and political power associated with international trade and goods movement have led to community organizing and advocacy across the 17 regions in the study. However, the extent and success of these efforts has been largely determined by the existing organizing infrastructure, state regulatory and enforcement laws, political and economic pressures, access to academic, legal, and technical research and assistance, and other factors.

The report also points to recommendations about where more work in the field is needed to ensure that freight transportation delivers health, not harm, to our country’s communities,” Professor Matsuoka says. These include:

  • Connecting local and regional organizing
  • Strengthening, expanding, and linking national and international networks
  • Strengthening and expanding research on health and environmental impacts
  • Forging and promoting public policies and land-use that integrate protective health measures into project planning and approval
  • Increasing local government’s capacity to regulate and plan
  • Broadening and strengthening the movement to include related policy issues

For more information, contact Cynthia Shaw, or call 248-643-9630.

The Kresge Foundation
3215 West Big Beaver Road
Troy, Michigan 48084

248.643.9630 telephone
248.643.0588 fax

The Kresge Foundation is a $3.1 billion private, national foundation that seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations through its support of nonprofit organizations in six fields of interest: arts and culture, community development, education, the environment, health, and human services.

About Us

The Kresge Foundation is a $3.1 billion private, national foundation that supports communities by building the capacity of nonprofit organizations in six fields: health, the environment, arts and culture, education, human services and community development. Kresge seeks to influence the quality of life for future generations by creating access and opportunity in underserved communities, improving the health of low-income people, supporting artistic expression, assisting in the revitalization of Detroit, and advancing methods for dealing with global climate change. In 2009, the Board of Trustees approved 404 awards totaling $197 million; $167 million was paid out to grantees over the course of the year. In June 2007, the foundation embarked upon a multi-year expansion of its grantmaking to better address society’s pressing issues. Central to this expansion are nine values, which now serve as the centerpiece of its grantmaking criteria. The values aim to advance low-income opportunity, promote community impact in ways most needed by residents, cultivate innovation and risk taking, support interdisciplinary solutions, foster environmental sustainability, and encourage diversity in board governance. For more information, visit