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Most California Counties Get an 'F' for Air Quality

New America Media, News Report, Ngoc Nguyen Posted: Apr 29, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO -- Los Angeles topped the list of the nations most ozone polluted city, according to an annual air pollution report card released today.

Thirty-eight of Californias 52 counties received failing grades, and 16 received A grades in the American Lung Associations 2009 State of the Air report. Counties receiving an A grade had no unhealthy air days over a three-year period, from 2005 to 2007. Those receiving an F grade had nine or more unhealthy days in three years.

There were 12 additional counties in California that failed. Thats something thats new, said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior policy director of the American Lung Association of California. Bakersfield tops the list for year-round particle pollution. Generally, L.A. tops all of the lists -- for particle pollution and ozone.

This year, 12 more California counties received failing grades than last year, because of the tighter national ozone standard implemented in 2008.

The report looks at the most up to date and quality assured data from 2005, 2006 and 2007. It measured ozone levels and particle pollution, measuring both 24-hour spikes and year-round pollution.

Kern County has the worst annual particle pollution levels nationwide, with Bakersfield topping the list for the city with the most year-round particle pollution, replacing Los Angeles in that category. San Bernardino County ranked the worst, nationally, for ozone pollution.

Ozone, or smog, forms when sunlight cooks vapors (nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds) from vehicles, factories, power plants and other sources that burn fossil fuels.

Ozone acts like a corrosive substance that burns really well. It causes inflammation as a result of the burning of the airways a sunburn in the lungs, according to Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks, and can lead to premature death.

Particle pollution is a toxic mix of soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols. Fine particle pollution can lodge deep in the lungs, increasing the risk of early death, heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits for asthma and heart disease. Studies show fine particle pollution affects how childrens lungs grow and function.

Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because their lungs are still developing and they spend more time outdoors, but air pollution also causes health problems for people 65 and older, people with lung or heart disease and even healthy adults who exercise or work outside.

Studies show truck drivers and dock and rail yard workers laborers exposed to high and constant levels of ozone and particle pollution-- have a higher risk of lung cancer and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

A lot of new studies improved our understanding of the serious health impacts of air pollution, Holmes-Gen said. Studies on traffic pollution suggest that people living near freeways are at increased risk for asthma and hospital visits, she said.

One study shows reduced lung function and premature death in women over 50 from long-term exposure to particle pollution.

California probably is the state taking the most aggressive steps in the nation to address the problem, said Janice E. Nolen, the American Lung Associations assistant vice president of national policy & advocacy.

The state has adopted increasingly stringent tailpipe emissions standards on cars, trucks, boats, off road equipment, cleaner gasoline and diesel requirements, and has regulations to phase out and upgrade old equipment, Holmes-Gen said.

Last week, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) adopted a first-ever low carbon fuel standard. The rule requires fuel producers to reduce the carbon content of fuels by 10 percent and increase the use of alternative fuels by 20 percent by the year 2020.

CARB has targeted emission reductions in motor vehicles, which account for 60 percent of the pollution in the state, according to Holmes-Gen. Efforts to set tighter emissions limits on farm equipment and dairies could help to ease air pollution in the Central Valley.

The Central Valley faces both geographical and weather changes that worsen air pollution. Mountain ranges are like a bowl that traps pollution, and an inversion [effect] and stagnant weather conditions that trap weather close to the ground, Holmes-Gen said.

Though the state has made strides to reduce air pollution, the added uncertainty of a steadily warming climate could offset the gains.

As the climate warms, there are more days with conditions that lead to ozone formation, said Holmes-Gen. Its working against us and makes it harder for us to achieve those emissions reductions.

Local air pollution grades available here: http://www.stateoftheair.org/

Related Articles:

Breath of Fresh Air in Commerce? Maybe

California Passes Nation's Strictest Diesel Truck Rules

Pollution Is the Valley's Silent Killer



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