California’s drought dilemma has gotten widespread coverage in the news. Perhaps only China has gotten more press in the area of ever increasing levels of air pollution. Researchers and health experts forewarn that we should not neglect another one of California’s most important public health concerns: air quality.
Annual air pollution rankings produce bleak pictures of the state’s air quality. Los Angeles retains the dubious honor of the city with the nation’s worst smog and ozone violations, according to the report prepared by the American Lung Association.
The Los Angeles Basin and Central Valley expose residents to high levels of ozone and fine particle pollution - and this despite having made huge improvements over the past few decades. Almost half of the nation’s population is breathing unhealthy air, and approximately 30 million people reside in California, where 77% of people live in areas with dangerous air pollution.
The main source of the pollution? The busy ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. California has a very healthy economy and functions as one of the main entry points for goods. More than half of the goods coming into the United States arrive in California’s ports, and most of them are packed onto diesel-powered trains or trucks to be delivered to their final destinations all over the country. Living downwind from the ports or train tracks is a major health risk, causing spikes in respiratory diseases such as asthma and allergies and leading to a wide range of health effects. For example, studies documented poor lung development and 89 percent higher risk of asthma in children living near areas with high-density traffic.
While there has been a slight improvement due to stricter emission standards for vehicles and Diesel engines, California still suffers from the most polluted air in the nation, the American Lung Association says.
Global warming will make overall air quality as well as the associated health concerns even worse. As the fine particles and toxic chemicals stew in a warmer atmosphere, the term “ozone smog” will become a much more widespread term.