A new air-quality report not only ranks Southern California as the worst in the country, but details the vicious cycle of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to warmer temperatures and droughts, which in turn contribute to ever-worsening wildfires Which releases more harmful emissions into the air. .
Including smog and soot, San Diego had the worst air in the nation last year, followed by Los Angeles-Orange County and the Inland Empire, according to “Trouble in the Air,” an environmental California-Calpireg study, Tuesday, 5 Released in October.
The ranking is similar to a ranking released by the American Lung Association and IQAir earlier this year, and was announced a day before California Clean Air Day, encouraging residents to take a number of steps to reduce emissions. goes.
However, some things are beyond the control of most individuals.
While the West – along with the rest of the country – initially enjoyed the air-quality benefits of the COVID-19 pandemic, which greatly reduced traffic, the region’s record-shattering 2020 fire season quickly made it Changed. Overall, the western wildfires burned more than 10.2 million acres and destroyed more than 10,000 structures last year, mostly in Washington, Oregon and California.
“The impact of the fire was not limited to the West Coast and the Rockies,” the report said. “Americans across the country watched their summer skies darken and smelled of smoke from distant wildfires.”
Southern California has long had some of the worst air quality in the country, despite the country’s most comprehensive emissions regulations. Contributing to that trend are wildfires of the West, which are burning twice as many acres without climate change, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, cited in the Environmental California Report.
“The lesson we had was that the greenhouse gases we produce today will have an impact on the air our children and grandchildren breathe – just as carbon pollution pumped into the atmosphere over the last century,” the report said. Which helped in the devastating wildfires of 2020.” .
The Environmental California report focuses on two types of emissions that contribute to haze, also known as ground-level ozone, and soot, also known as particulate pollution. The largest source (59%) for nitrogen oxide emissions is the use of fossil fuels related to transportation. For emissions of volatile organic compounds, forest fires are the largest source (38%).
Those findings were based on data from 2017, before last year’s horrific fires, which exacerbated the problems.
And while fossil fuels contribute to smog, they also contribute to warmer temperatures.
“The vicious cycle of air pollution and global warming is already affecting our lives,” the report said. “Despite lower emissions of ozone-forming chemicals, there is already an increase in ozone due to higher temperatures.”
Warmer and drier conditions induced by climate change “increases the frequency and severity of wildfires, which … can increase air pollution to dangerous levels,” it says. Those fires can also raise temperatures and accelerate the rate of ozone formation. And more ozone pollution is likely to accelerate climate change.
In 2020, one in six Americans living in counties with more than 100 days failed to reach the air quality threshold that the EPA calls “good.”
According to the report, this puts those residents at an increased risk of premature death, respiratory and cardiovascular problems, cancer, immune deficiencies and issues related to fertility and pregnancy.
Such health hazards were also cited in reports by the American Lung Association and IQAir earlier this year, which broke down their geographic rankings differently than those of Environmental California.
In addition to Environmental California rankings of major population centers by combined smog and soot pollution, the report broke down each of those types of contaminants.
The Inland Empire ranked 11th along with the Los Angeles-Orange County area as the nation’s worst smog in 2020. But Los Angeles-Orange County is second for particulate matter — also known as soot — with San Diego at the top of the list and the Inland Empire at fifth.
The American Lung Association named the five-county Los Angeles area as the nation’s darkest metro area for the 21st time in 22 years, based on data from three years 2017 to 2019. In a county-by-county breakdown, San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties ranked first, second, and third. Orange County ranked 25th, receiving a failing grade. The five-county Los Angeles area ranks fourth for soot.
The IQAir report looked at the soot rankings by city for 2020, with Los Angeles County accounting for 14 of the country’s 25 worst-hit cities and three more in the Inland Empire. Of the 106 countries ranked worldwide, the US ranks 22nd best.
A key component of California Clean Air Day is encouraging residents to take steps to reduce emissions, including biking or using mass transit, installing solar panels, and combining online purchases into a single shipment. And that includes giving up meat one day a week.
The Environmental California report, meanwhile, focuses more on government policy and uses its data to drive the movement away from fossil fuels more rapidly.
“Combustion of fossil fuels is the primary human-caused source of air pollution – and the main driver of global warming, which threatens to make air quality worse in the coming years,” it says. “Policy makers must move quickly to reduce air pollution, including by electrifying every sector of the economy and transitioning to clean, renewable sources of electricity.”
Specific recommendations include more legislative efforts to phase out fossil fuel vehicles, more incentives to implement and expand the Clean Air Act, and promote walking, biking and mass transit over personal vehicles. Huh.
The report points to the early days of the pandemic as an example of what is possible.
“We … learned the lesson of hope that if we reduce pollution today, we can enjoy clear skies almost overnight,” it says. “These lessons share the same takeaway: cutting air pollution now – including the transition away from burning fossil fuels in our homes, businesses and vehicles – can help us and future generations enjoy healthier lives. “