Here's Why LA's Smog Has Been Extra Smoggy

The smog's been ugly recently, but experts say the air quality isn't as bad as it looks.

The air above L.A. hasn't looked so good these past few days. Even neighborhoods in West L.A., where the air is usually better, are seeing air quality figures getting close to the "unhealthy for sensitive groups" category.

But it's late October, when it's usually cooling down and the air usually gets cleaner.

So what gives?

Sam Atwood from the South Coast Air Quality Management District said the recent fog has been a big contributor, for a couple of reasons.

One: he said it helps create "fine particulate pollution." That's when tiny, floating solid particles (think dust and ash) mix with tiny, floating water droplets (think fog and sea spray). Breathing that in has a negative impact on your health.

Two: because fog is so heavy, it keeps the smog close to the ground, rather than letting it dissipate into the atmosphere.

But he also said that the air quality isn't that unusual for a week in late October — it's just hitting the neighborhoods where people expect it least.

"When we do get Santa Ana conditions ... what we can see sometimes is air pollution pushed to the coastal areas," Atwood said. "So residents on the coastal areas who are used to some of the cleanest air quality in the region can get some of the worst air pollution."

That partly explains the poor air quality in West L.A.

Bill Magavern at Coalition for Clean Air blames it on higher temperatures caused by climate change.

"With climate change, we're seeing more hot and dry weather, and hot and dry weather is more conducive for the formation of smog," Magavern said.

The climate change couples with already high pollution from cars and transportation trucks to make L.A.'s smog worse, according to Magavern.

And while late October for smog might have seemed strange before, he thinks it's part of a new normal.

"It's worse than usual, but it's not that strange given how warm and dry it's been," he said. "Unfortunately, this is the kind of situation that with climate change we're seeing more of. More hot and dry weather and, consequently, more smog."

His observation comes after Los Angeles logged 87 straight days of bad air quality earlier this year.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated this was LA's smoggiest summer on record. However, air quality is not officially gauged in seasons. LAist regrets the error.


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