Improvements but still major quality problems
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2017” report cited the Los Angeles region, which includes the Inland Empire, for recently achieving its lowest levels ever for unhealthy ozone days and year-round particle pollution.
But the region remains among the most polluted in the country. “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 of California.
Ozone pollution, particularly dangerous to those with breathing issues, is exacerbated by global warming, according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a leading science-based nonprofit working to create a healthy environment and safer world. Ground-level ozone pollution affects lung diseases such as asthma and can cause breathing difficulties even in healthy people. It also drives people into emergency rooms, creating a significant financial drag on the American economy.
“While power plants and cars are among the main sources of ozone-forming pollutants [the chemical precursors to ozone], ozone’s formation is dependent on temperature, among other conditions,” notes the report. “As a result, climate change-induced rising temperatures have the potential to increase ozone pollution — and its health and economic burdens — across large parts of the country both now and in the future.”
In “State of the Air 2017,” California has 11 out of the top 25 most ozone-polluted cities in the country, with Los Angeles-Long Beach topping the list.
San Bernardino County tops the list of California counties with the highest weighted average of high-ozone days from 2013 through 2015 (in other words, most ozone-polluted days). Riverside County is second and Los Angeles County is third. All three counties received failing grades for high-ozone-polluted days.
Particle pollution, caused by diesel engines’ exhaust, wood-burning devices and wildfires, also is deadly. “Particle pollution, known as soot, can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes,” said Dr. Felix Aguilar, a family practitioner in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles region ranked nationally for all three pollution categories — first in ozone pollution, ninth in short-term particle pollution and fifth in year-round particle pollution.
The Lung Association report summarized the following: “The air is cleaner today because of the Federal Clean Air Act, California’s groundbreaking clean air and clean energy laws, and local air pollution control programs,” but “Climate change is impacting California’s fight for healthy air, with warming temperatures, droughts, heat waves and wildfires which can all create conditions for poor air quality and have devastating impacts on lung health.”
The report notes that statewide, more than 35 million Californians (91 percent) live in counties affected by unhealthy air during the year. Almost 17 million live in counties that received three failing grades in the report (ozone, short-term and year-round particle pollution).
The future for clean air also is complicated by a change in the national administration. Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to head the EPA, sued to block the Obama era federal health standard for ozone when he was attorney general in Oklahoma. Recently, the Trump administration indefinitely delayed a federal court hearing in which the administration was to defend the health standard, raising concerns that the administration would roll back the Clean Air Act, which requires the EPA to set health standards and develop regulations to meet them.
The Lung Association report recommends that everyone can make a difference for clean air — by driving less, carpooling, walking or biking where possible, switching to electric transportation instead of gasoline cars, avoiding wood burning and using less energy overall.
To view the “State of the Air 2017” report, visit www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/sota.