The American Lung Association just released its annual State of the Air report, which finds that more than 40% of Americans live within areas with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Southern Californians fared especially bad.
Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Ventura counties all received F grades for particle and ozone pollution, which can lead to serious health problems for the people who live in those areas.
"There's a wide range of health impacts," said Will Barrett, the senior director of Clean Air Advocacy for the Lung Association. "Those can range from minor irritations and coughing and wheezing to asthma attacks. There's also heart issues, heart attacks and strokes. Breathing particle pollution can even cause lung cancer and both ozone and particle pollution can contribute to premature death."
Protecting our air is the responsibility of the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The failing grades for its territories may be frustrating for the AQMD, but not surprising.
"We know we have some of the worst air quality in the country," said Sarah Rees, a deputy executive officer for the AQMD. "But we know we've also made tremendous progress over the years as well."
The improvements in air quality she is referring to are included in the Lung Association report, and they are dramatic, but Southern California's starting point was so bad when the Lung Association began issuing its State of the Air reports 21 years ago that even after great progress, the air quality here still ranks toward the bottom of the states.
Why? Climate change means Southern Californians have to deal with more extreme heat days and larger, more frequent wildfires, both of which multiply our ozone problems.
Then, you have to factor in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Rees says a staggering 40% of all U.S. imports are funneled through our ports.
"Those imports come through our ports, they then are trucked through the region to warehouses, they go out by rail, so all of that equipment, all those engines, are really contributing to the air pollution that we see," she told Eyewitness News.
Barrett of the Lung Association says the key is to focus on cutting emissions in transportation.
"We know we need to cut down on the combustion of fossil fuels in the transportation sector, really speed the transition to zero emission technologies and not just for passenger vehicles, but medium and heavy duty vehicles as well as port equipment," said Barrett.