Southern California

Hidden Cost of Convenience: How Online Purchases Are Costing SoCal Communities

With the click of a mouse, you can now get almost anything delivered overnight from online retailers like Amazon, Zappos, Walmart and many others.

But that speedy convenience comes at a high price — it’s creating worsening pollution for parts of Southern California and is possibly making thousands of people sick, an NBC4 I-Team investigation has learned.

To make same-day or next-day delivery possible, developers are building more and more massive warehouses for major retailers — mainly in the Inland Empire — often right next to neighborhoods.

From the warehouses, an endless parade of diesel-belching semi trucks deliver online orders that end up at homes across Southern California and points beyond.

And that’s a big problem for residents.

"You’re scared to even take a deep breath in," mother Ashley Saragosa told the NBC4 I-Team.

Saragosa lives down the street from a huge Amazon Fulfillment Center in San Bernardino and says her 2-year-old son often needs an inhaler to breathe because of the toxic exhaust from trucks that pass her house every few seconds.

And more mega-warehouses are in the works for other areas, like the 1.8 million square feet proposed San Gorgonio Crossing project near the town of Beaumont, which would sit between a senior citizens community and right across the street from 500 new homes about to be built.

"We would either need to be on oxygen all the time or we would have to leave the area," said Jim Overturf, who has emphysema and lives in the senior community next to the proposed warehouse complex.

Studies have shown that truck exhaust in the Inland Empire is having a dramatically negative impact on residents' health, especially in children.

The USC Children’s Health Study, conducted by the USC Keck School of Medicine, found children in the Inland Empire living near freeways and roads with heavy truck exhaust have a three times greater chance of developing asthma and have decreased lung function. The study began in 1993 and has been updated repeatedly, most recently in March 2015.

"You’re at risk not only for the respiratory diseases … but we’ve seen brain tumors, and other problems (from truck exhaust)," said Penny Newman, executive director of The Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.

Newman’s group has sued and succeeded in keeping some proposed warehouses from being built close to homes. They plan to make sure the planned San Gorgonio Crossing project is at least 1,500 feet from the nearest homes.

"I think we need to give good thought to [where the warehouses are built] and make sure they’re away from where homes and schools are," Newman said.

Developers have showered tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to local politicians who approve warehouse projects, like Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley.

And some residents fear that developers' campaign contributions could prompt politicians to green-light warehouse projects.

"They’re dead wrong, and I’m sorry that people are so cynical,” Saragosa told NBC4. "Money doesn’t motivate me, my community motivates me."

The developers of San Gorgonio Crossing will present an environmental impact report to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors next month, which will then hold public hearings and vote on the project later this year.

Retailers including Amazon and WalMart declined NBC4’s offer to comment on their warehouses and the truck traffic they generate.

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