After years of progress, is Southland air still making us sick?
From Arroyo Monthly Magazine, January, 2014
If you’ve lived in the Pasadena area long enough, you remember those summers when you couldn’t see the San Gabriel Mountains for days on end. From those mountains, you’d look out on a brown pall of pollution shrouding the L.A. basin.
The skies are clearer and cleaner now: The number of unhealthy air days in Southern California has been cut in half since 1976. And there hasn’t been a smog alert in over a decade. “We have done miraculous things through cleaner cars, better fuels, cracking down on refineries,” says Joe Lyou, who heads the nonprofit Coalition for Clean Air. The progress comes despite the region’s topography and growing population, both conducive to smog.
But — cough, cough — many of us are still breathing bad air, and changing that will require even greater efforts to clean up the way we live, commute and do business in Southern California. The metropolitan L.A./Riverside/San Bernardino area continues to have the nation’s most severe air pollution problem (tied with the San Joaquin Valley). In 2012, the region exceeded federal health standards for ozone on 111 days. The state estimates that, every year, Southland smog — primarily ozone and particulates — causes 5,000 people to die prematurely, shortening some lives by as much as a decade. The monetary cost in lost lives, hospitalizations, lost workdays, etc., is estimated at a hefty $14.6 billion. Part of our predicament is that the more public health officials study air pollution, the more health impacts they find, often at lower levels of exposure. “So the standards have gotten tougher over time,” says Lyou, also Governor Brown’s appointee to the board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), a local regulatory agency. “The goalposts have been moved.”
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