Jackson Gray | The Poly Post

LA County receives an ‘F’ grade for air quality

By Charlize Althea Garcia, May 9, 2023

The American Lung Association released its State of the Air report for Los Angeles County mid-April. The result was a failing grade for high ozone days.  

The report showed a three-year period from 2019 to 2021 stating a weighted average of 112 high ozone days in LA county.  

Ground-level ozone is a harmful air pollutant which can cause respiratory distress and contributes to smog formation. Short-term exposure can cause coughing and reduced lung function while long-term exposure can lead to the development of asthma and other severe lung diseases. 

The presence of ozone is created by the reaction of pollutants emitted by mobile and stationary sources. Sources include, but are not limited to, power and chemical plants, industrial facilities and motor vehicles.  

The Lung Association ranked Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area as the worst of 227 metropolitan areas in the nation for having the worst high ozone days and stated 98% of Californians live in counties impacted by air pollution. In the air quality index report produced by the Environmental Protection Agency, Los Angeles County only experienced 40 days of good air quality in 2022.  

The EPA also stated in its Green Book, air quality reports that provide detailed information about area National Ambient Air Quality Standards designations, classifications and nonattainment status. The NAAQS has two statuses: attainment, the geographic area meets or is cleaner than the national standard, or nonattainment, the area does not meet the standard. Classifications include six categories noting the design values of pollutants ranging from the lowest, marginal, to the highest, extreme.  The current status of Los Angeles County is at nonattainment and has a current classification of extreme for ozone.  

The report was released a week before the public hearing of two proposed regulations geared to reduce emissions from mobile sources, specifically on-road motorized and railway vehicles, to the California Air Resources Board. Both regulations were approved April 27 and 28.  

The In-Use Locomotive Regulation will require operators to pay into a spending account determined by emissions created while in the state. These funds will allow companies to upgrade to cleaner locomotive technologies. The regulation also sets a 30-minute idling limit and will require locomotives to operate in zero-emissions configurations built in 2030 or after.  

The Advanced Clean Fleets regulation is the world’s first mandate geared to end combustion truck sales. Fleet owners who operate for private services alongside state and local government fleets will be subject to begin their transition towards zero-emission vehicles in 2024.  

Lynda Lambert, an information specialist from the California Air Resources Board, mentioned the urgency to look at every contributing source, whether big or small, to address the air quality issue.  

“A lot of locomotives out there are 50, 70 years old, using very old diesel technology that have considerable emissions and huge public health impacts for those communities that live around the railyards or rail lines, so the next natural progression is making sure we look at every source that we can,” said Lambert. 

Jackson Gray | The Poly Post

The most common and major source of pollutants comes from motor vehicles though, a variety of sources can cause air pollution.  

James Blair, assistant professor of geography and anthropology and environmental anthropologist with a focus in environmental justice at Cal Poly Pomona, said climate change has a direct relationship with air pollution.  

“People often focus on climate change without focusing locally on how it’s all from the same source of pollution that’s causing these global scale problems like climate change,” said Blair.  “When diesel trucks or cars or container vessels are powered and they’re emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, that’s then making climate change worse leading to global warming and making it so that the global temperatures are rising rapidly beyond what the levels were pre-industrially.”  

Air pollution has been a perpetual resident of Los Angeles County. In comparison to the last five decades, the past couple of years show a decrease in air pollutant emissions. Public awareness coupled with sustainable technology contribute to the road to zero emissions.  

Lung Association state manager of clean air advocacy Mariela Ruacho spoke on the solutions that can be done individually as well as from corporations. She mentioned providing more funding for zero emission incentives for vehicles, pushing for zero emissions for heavy duty trucks and choosing sustainable transportation options while signifying the importance of making transportation services more accessible. 

“Everyone is impacted by unhealthy air,” said Ruacho. “If you have lungs, you are impacted by unhealthy air. That should be urgent enough for you to take action.”  

Feature image courtesy of Jackson Gray

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