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Air Pollution Documentary Premiers in Santa Monica  

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By Jason Islas
Lookout Staff

September 1, 2011-- The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) premiered “The Right To Breathe,” a documentary film about the hazards of air pollution in Los Angeles, at the Women in Green Forum at the Sheraton in Santa Monica Tuesday.

“I think a lot of people forget how bad [the air pollution] is,” the film's director Alexandre Phillipe told The Lookout.

“Southern California's air is actually the worst in the nation,” AQMD Executive Officer Barry Wallerstein said in an interview in the film. “According to the best estimates, nearly 5,000 Southern Californians die prematurely each year due to air pollution.”

The 21-minute film treats the question of air quality as an issue of social justice, focusing on a particular area of Los Angeles called “The Diesel Death Zone.” It's an area bordered on the north by Interstate 405, to the south by the Port of Los Angeles and to the west by what the movie says is the most polluted railway in the country.

When they were filming on location, Phillipe said he felt the effects of the pollution almost immediately. “Within 30 minutes, I literally started hurting. I could taste” the pollution, he said.

It made him think about the people who live in the area – mostly low-income families or older people.

The film's producer and AQMD Media Relations Manager Sam Atwood told The Lookout, “Every time you talk to someone who lives one block from the most toxic rail yard in the state, it takes your breath away.”

With continuing research, the actual impact of air pollution on people's health is becoming clearer, said Atwood.

He hopes that the film will “inflame passion for the need for better air quality.”

Atwood thinks that it's important to realize how far Los Angeles has come in terms of air quality, but he doesn't want that progress to make people complacent.

“We need to keep the pressure on,” he said, “and we need to focus on ports, railroads and aircraft.”

During a panel session following the film's premier, several of those interviewed in the movie answered questions from the audience.

Michael Cacciotti, AQMD board member and South Pasadena City Council member, reminded the audience that people need to take personal responsibility.

“There is a direct health impact if I drive my kid to soccer practice in my SUV,” he said.

Dr. Rob McConnell, a professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in air pollution research, seconded Cacciotti's point, adding that the health impact from car traffic “is greater than jet traffic.”

Phillippe agreed that individual choice can make a difference. “There are little things we can do,” he said. “Millions of people can make a difference,” he said.

A trailer of the film and more information is available on the AQMD website.

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