The Los Angeles region achieved its lowest levels ever for unhealthy ozone days and for year-round particle pollution but still remains among the most polluted in the country, according to the newly released State of the Air 2017 report from the American Lung Association (ALA).
The Los Angeles region topped the national list for number of unhealthy days of ozone pollution, ranked fifth for year-round particle pollution, and ninth for short-term particle pollution.
“Our state’s air quality continues to hit unhealthy levels each year, putting Californians at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma, COPD, and lung cancer,” said Olivia Diaz-Lapham, president and CEO of the American Lung Association in California. “We are seeing continued improvement in parts of the state, but there are too many areas where residents are breathing dirty air, and we must work to reduce all sources of air pollution.”
The State of the Air 2017 report is based on air quality monitoring data collected in 2013–2015, the most recent years available. The report focuses on ozone and particle pollution, as they are the most widespread forms of air pollution threatening public health.
The Los Angeles region also includes San Bernardino and Riverside counties. San Bernardino County remains the most ozone-polluted county in the nation, though both counties saw a drop in unhealthy ozone days.
“Ozone pollution is especially harmful to children, seniors and those with asthma and other lung diseases. When they breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room,” said Dr. Felix Aguilar, a family practitioner in Los Angeles.
Particle pollution, which comes from diesel engine exhaust, wood-burning devices and wildfires, can be deadly, according to the ALA.
“Particle pollution, known as soot, can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes,” Aguilar said. “They can even cause lung cancer and early death.”
Air pollution in the Los Angeles region, especially San Bernardino and Riverside counties, has taken a toll on residents, especially those with lung illnesses, according to the ALA.
“I grew up with chronic asthma and struggled to get it under control. I know how hard it is to not be able to breathe,” said Jennifer Li, a Los Angeles resident and lung health advocate. “The heavy freeway traffic, exhaust from buses and trucks may be a part of everyday life in Los Angeles, but the result is some of the worst air quality in the country. We must do better.”
Here’s where the Los Angeles region ranked nationally for all three pollution types:
More than 90 percent of Californians live in areas with unhealthy air at some point during the year, a serious public health concern at a time when the federal government is considering rolling back clean-air protections, according to the ALA.
In California and nationwide, the number of unhealthy days for ozone has decreased, thanks to the success of the federal Clean Air Act as well as state and local air pollution control programs that clean up major sources of emissions. Air-quality laws save lives and must be defended in Congress, the ALA says, adding that policies to combat climate change also need to be protected.
Climate change is worsening air-pollution problems. Research has shown that climate change causes warmer temperatures that increase ozone formation and make it harder to reach clean-air goals. Climate change is also linked to extreme weather patterns, drought and wildfires, which contributed to the extraordinarily high numbers of days with unhealthy particle pollution in some cities.
“While California continues to move forward with policies like strong standards to reduce vehicle emissions, the federal government wants to move backwards,” said Diaz-Lapham. “We call on President Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and members of Congress to fully fund, implement and enforce the Clean Air Act for all air pollutants– including those that drive climate change and make it harder to ensure healthy air for all Americans.”
More information is available at stateoftheair.org/california2017.