L.A. Has The Worst Air In The Nation Again

The following article was originally published April 21, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

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Story by Jacob Margolis


Reporter Roundup is a collaboration between PBS SoCal/KCET and KPCC/LAist to bring you the biggest headlines M-F about COVID-19. Watch the April 21 episode here.

The American Lung Association just released its annual "State of the Air" report and, as usual, Southern California didn't fare well.

The Los Angeles and Long Beach areas, which they lump into one area for this list, have some of the worst air in the nation.

For ozone, we are No. 1. For particle pollution, we are No. 4 (behind Bakersfield, Fresno and Visalia).



Both particle pollution and ozone — key components of smog — are a result of many factors, most of which involve the burning of fossil fuels, especially by passenger cars and big trucks.

However, there are other sources including wildfires, manufacturing, airplanes, ships and backyard grills.

High levels of pollution are associated with negative health outcomes such as respiratory illnesses and heart disease, especially if you're a low income family or a person of color.

Pollution might negatively impact people infected with COVID-19.

People take in the view with the buildings of downtown Los Angeles partially obscured at midday on November 5, 2019 as seen from Pasadena, California. | Mario Tama/Getty Images
People take in the view with the buildings of downtown Los Angeles partially obscured at midday on November 5, 2019 as seen from Pasadena, California. | Mario Tama/Getty Images


It's easy to rag on L.A. The millions of people who live here produce a lot of pollution. But L.A. is also a mega city with a geography that's conducive to trapping bad air.

While cities like Chicago and New York have wind and storms to keep their air moving, our air often sits stagnant inside the bowl that is the L.A. basin.

On top of that, the gorgeous sunny weather that makes living here so great is also responsible for transforming nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds into the ozone we're choking on.

Rising temperatures due to climate change will continue to make our air quality worse.



"If we went completely to clean energy, and we did nothing but solar and wind, and ran all of our engines on electric in both the industrial and the transportation sector, that would be huge," said Suzanne Paulson, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UCLA.

"That would pretty much solve our problems."


Yes, but with a whole lot of caveats.

March is traditionally one of L.A.'s best months for air quality, and a series of late-season storms cleared out much of our pollution.

The real test starts later this week, when temperatures climb into the 90s. As summer kicks into high gear and inversion layers become more persistent, Los Angeles will continue to face air quality challenges.

As stay-at-home orders are lifted, air quality will drop as people resume their normal lives.

If you've enjoyed the clean air, it's worth considering what we can do to achieve it again.

"It absolutely is a future that we could look forward to," Paulson said, "and I'm optimistic that we're going to get there eventually, but it's going to be a while."



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