The rapidly expanding warehousing industry has led to recent studies and controversies over the industry’s impact on workers, the environment, and the general population. Warehousing and its associated activities produce indoor and outdoor pollutants that have been shown to have a significant impact on the environment and on human health. Through incentives, regulations, and sustainable warehouse management, the industry can continue to expand and grow at a healthy pace while minimizing detrimental effects.
Warehouse Industry Growth
Six of the eight largest metropolitan areas in the United States have experienced significant growth in warehousing over the past ten years. Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Chicago, and Philadelphia have all seen at least a 20% growth in warehousing during the last decade, with Houston undergoing a 40% growth rate. The expansion of the warehousing industry is especially concerning in certain geographic areas, such cities located in the South Coast Air Basin, because their meteorology and location already predispose them to poor environmental air quality.
Warehouse Air Pollution Sources
Both indoor and outdoor air quality are affected by the warehousing industry. As the industry expands, more workers and residents are exposed to warehousing pollutants.
Indoor pollutants in a warehouse can include carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides from loading docks and forklifts. Toxic mold is also an issue in warehouses located in areas with high humidity and in poorly ventilated areas of a facility. Volatile Organic Compounds1 (VOCs) are also emitted in most warehouses from the materials stored, storage materials, vehicles like forklifts, and materials handling or manufacturing from within the warehouse.
The same pollutants that affect warehouse workers also affect those who live near warehouses. Lead, particulates, and carbon dioxide emitted from diesel vehicles, especially, have caused significant health concerns in certain areas like the South Coast Air Basin2. The most pressing concerns are the emission of particulates and carbon dioxide. Particulates from diesel trucks and carbon dioxide emissions have been linked to numerous health issues.
Besides the logistics that create carbon dioxide pollution, warehouses consume a significant amount of energy. This leads to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector, directly caused by the expansion of warehousing.
Impacts of Warehouse Air Pollution
Research indicates that inhaling particulates from diesel trucks serving the warehousing industry is one of the top contributors to lung cancer, worldwide. In the newly proposed warehouse zone of Moreno Valley, California, for example, the World Logistics Center estimates that one in 10,000 residents who live near the warehouses could develop cancer, in addition to one in 50,000 residents in the surrounding area.
Besides lung cancer, warehouse air pollution has been linked to:
• chronic bronchitis, and
• coronary heart disorder
As with most environmental issues, those who live in poorer, urban environments are most impacted.
Solutions to Warehouse Air Pollution
The challenge to solving the warehouse pollution issue involves balancing business interests and societal and environmental impact. While this is still a fairly new area being studied, there are things warehouse managers can do to reduce their footprint on the surrounding areas and residents.
One solution to the issue of warehouse emissions is to provide incentives to companies in and linked to the warehousing industry. In the Moreno Valley area, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD2) has proposed incentives to persuade logistics and warehousing companies to switch to newer, lower-emission vehicles and equipment. SCAQMD believes incentives will lower health risks while keeping companies from suing over increasing regulations. Incentive solutions also often launch faster than solutions proposed by regulations, which are most often preceded by long-running hearings.
Groups like the Sierra Club claim that incentives are not enough. They believe that regulatory measures are needed to prevent the rapidly expanding warehousing industry from destroying the environment and people’s health. To date, regulatory measures have improved the air quality in many regions of the United States, especially in California, but increased regulations often lead to lengthy and expensive lawsuits launched by those in the industry.
Sustainable Warehouse Management
Warehouse managers can reduce the impact of warehousing on workers, local residents, and on the environment through better, sustainable building management. Sustainable warehouse management benefits companies by increasing brand appeal and loyalty while reducing the impact of warehouse activities on people and the environment. A sustainable warehouse management model should address interrelated economic objectives of all companies involved in warehousing, employee and societal welfare, and minimization of environmental impact.
This often starts by testing and improving the indoor air of a warehouse, including checking humidity and moisture. Managers should also schedule regular testing and inspections of their HVAC systems to check for mold and fungi buildup and to ensure the system is working properly for the building’s function and occupancy level.
To further ensure healthy indoor air quality, managers should check for carbon monoxide, asbestos, and radon in their warehouses. Warehouses can either rent or purchase instruments that check for gases and indoor air pollutants, or they can contract with a company like Advanced Filtration Concepts, Inc. in Los Angles, that can perform these measurements for them.
Keeping the air pressure inside the warehouse higher than the air pressure outside the warehouse is also crucial to indoor air quality. Positive air pressure will make HVAC systems run more efficiently and will push contaminated air outside. Appropriate, properly fitted, regularly changed air filters, along with a smooth-running air handler, contribute to maintaining positive air pressure in a warehouse the most.
Warehouse managers can also help with outdoor air quality caused by their warehousing activities through sustainable warehouse management. From site selection to environmental compliance, warehouse managers have the power to make a difference. Managers can choose to only contract with companies who are responding to incentives for lower-emission vehicles or moving to low- or no-emission vehicles on their own. Rather than suing over new regulations, managers of warehouses and logistics companies both can contribute to meaningful discussions and studies aimed to improve the health of workers and residents in warehouse zones.
Striking a balance between industry growth and environmental and human health is possible through encouraging further studies, sustainable warehouse management, and continued discussions. The economic advantages of such a booming industry to a population need to be carefully weighed against an activity’s negative impacts. For more information on warehouse air pollution solutions, contact Engineered Filtration Systems. For a complete line of warehouse air filtration solutions,
visit EFS on the web.
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