“As twilight time the smog makes a rainbow,” sang Tom Petty. Known for its scarlet sunsets thought to be caused by air pollution, Los Angeles has long been synonymous with its smog, also known as ozone.
And in a dubious award, the Los Angeles-Long Beach metropolitan area was named—yet again—as far and away the most ozone-polluted area of the country in an annual air-quality report by the American Lung Association Wednesday.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach has, in fact, has been graded the country’s most abject area when it comes to ozone pollution area in 23 of the 24 years that the Lung Association has produced its State of the Air report. However, the association did note that the region did improve slightly since last year when it came to “unhealthy ozone days” and “particle pollution days.” (Particle pollution is the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air.)
What causes so much smog in L.A.? Car culture doesn’t help, but a large part is geographical. The city rests in a basin between mountains, and wind coming in from the Pacific Ocean means that pollutants like ozone and other pollutants hang over the city with nowhere to go.
The report painted a grim picture of other Californians and the air they breathe. Almost all Californians—98 per cent—live in areas that didn’t pass the test when it came to unhealthy ozone pollution days, unhealthy particle pollution days, or annual particle pollution days. And 40 per cent of residents live in areas that don’t pass the test for every one of those pollutants.
“Local and state actions have driven real progress in California, but there is much work to be done to ensure every Californian has clean, healthy air to breathe,” Mariela Ruacho, Clean Air Advocacy manager for the Lung Association, said in a statement. “Even one poor air quality day is one too many for children, older adults, people with chronic illness, lower-income residents and people of color. Policymakers at the local, state and federal levels must act to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe, and no community is left behind.”
In terms of ozone pollution, six California areas ranked in the top 10 for worst conditions. Joining Los Angeles-Long Beach on the list with a rank of 177 were Visalia, with a much smaller rank of 92.2, Bakersfield, Fresno-Madera-Hanford, Sacramento-Roseville and San Diego- Chula Vista-Carlsbad. The San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland region ranked 11th worst.
California areas also dominated the list of the worst regions in terms of unhealthy days of particle pollution, with Bakersfield topping the list. California regions claimed eight of the 10 worst particle pollution areas in the country, with Los Angeles-Long Beach placing 10th.
Nationally, the report found that nearly 120 million people live in areas with unhealthy air quality, and more than half of them are people of color. The report’s authors found that people of color were 64% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade in at least one of the study’s pollution categories.
“The good news is that ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, thanks in large part to the success of the Clean Air Act,” Lung Association national President/CEO Harold Wimmer said in a statement. The Clean Air Act is the United State’s main federal air quality law, enacted in 1963. “In this year’s `State of the Air’ report, we found that 19.3 million fewer people are living in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution, also known as smog.”
“However, the fact is that 120 million people still live in places with unhealthy air pollution, and not all communities are seeing improvements. This is why it is crucial to continue our efforts to ensure that every person in the U.S. has clean air to breathe.”
City News Service contributed to this report.
Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.