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Climate and Environment

Shocking No One, LA Is Number 1 In Smog Pollution Yet Again

The downtown skyline of Los Angeles is partially visible through a hazy layer of smog. Hills and mountains are visible in the foreground.
The buildings of downtown Los Angeles are partially obscured on a Fall afternoon in 2019.
(Mario Tama
Getty Images)
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It's not news that the Los Angeles area suffers from poor air quality, but another nationwide survey from the American Lung Association has, once again, found that the region has the worst air in the country.

L.A. County has been given the dubious honor of having the highest level of year-round, street-level smog pollution for all but one of the years the organization has put out its State of the Air report.

The latest survey looked at EPA air monitoring data collected from 2018 to 2020, and found that L.A. and Long Beach saw 180 combined days with high smog levels — and 50 days of bad air due to fine particle pollution, which is more dangerous.

Will Barrett, who led the report for the American Lung Association, said it's not just the region's notorious vehicle traffic that's to blame.

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"We know that families living in the shadow of refineries, warehouses, the ports — they're all dealing with really local sources of really damaging pollution."

The COVID-19 pandemic also had a notable impact. But not from the clear streets and cleaner air of the initial 2020 lockdown.

The report mentions the ports of L.A. and Long Beach, where cargo movement rose 20% over the first nine months of 2021 compared to the same nine months in 2019 (that's pre-pandemic for everyone trying to remember that far back). The report states:

According to estimates from the California Air Resources Board, as of October 2021, the increased congestion had resulted in overall container ship emissions increases of 20 tons per day (tpd) of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and 0.5 tpd of particulate matter. This increase in NOx emissions from container ships is roughly equivalent to the total emissions from 5.8 million passenger cars. Additionally, the increased diesel particulate emissions are comparable to the exhaust particulate emissions from almost 100,000 diesel trucks.

Barrett said that means communities of color and lower income neighborhoods are disproportionately more likely to bear the burden of air pollution, and suffer negative health consequences as a result.

We're in the Golden State, but it could just be the light reflecting off all our smog. California was all over the smog list with 10 other cities — including San Diego, Bakersfield, Oakland and Sacramento — also ranked in the top 25.

L.A. and Long Beach came in fifth on the annual particulate matter pollution, behind four other California metro areas: Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia and the Bay Area.

What questions do you have about Southern California?