Where is Our Air? A Very Smoggy Day in LA
August 19, 2009 1 Comment
August 18th, 2009. Los Angeles, California, USA
Around 2:30 p.m. This afternoon I needed to make the drive from Long Beach (California) to Burbank (California). Normally this is not a bad drive, as the mountains are a pleasure to see off in the distance, and if you take the long way around (US Interstate 605 from Long Beach to the mountains, then follow the I 210 freeway around towards Burbank), particularly in the winter months, it is a clear, beautiful panorama of the LA Basin skyline.
Not today. A combination of smoke drifting into the LA area from fires near Santa Barbara, and weather conditions holding the smog in the LA Basin have created a condition that is, well downright disgusting. In Long beach we have the advantage of good breeze coming off the ocean which keeps the coastline generally clear, and not too unhealthy.
Today I could not see clearly for more than a mile or so in the Long beach area, and by the time I hit the ‘605 heading towards the mountains the visibility had dropped to a couple hundred meters. Headache time. Horrible headache time. Nearly had an accident headache time (and yes, I feel embarrassed and humbled by the fact…).
By the time I hit the northern edge of the basin air quality had degraded so badly it was hard to see more then about 200 meters. Traffic in LA, which under normal conditions is pretty aggressive, actually started slowing down because of reduced visibility. And perhaps the burning eyes, people trying to drive while choking up lung chunks. Yes, the air was really bad.
Not Just Me
Finally made it to Burbank. Having lived in LA for around 5 ½ years I thought I had seen it all, from ash fall during wild fires, to driving through a wildfire myself. We know that wildfires will generate a nasty haze that covers entire regions. We know all this because it is an annual routine we go through in California as the land renews itself.
But this was even worse, as the offshore flow pushed bad air, including smoke – and smog into the ring of mountains surrounding the LA basin. So I decided to get some facts. Facts from the California Air Quality Management District/AQMD, and the US Government’s air quality website called “Air Now.”
Yes, indeed, today LA’s air quality was bad.
According to the California Air Resources Board “three-fourths of residents still live in areas that violate health standards for ozone, which causes respiratory disease.
And large swaths of the Inland Empire have 40 to 80 days a year that exceed the federally designated safe level for ozone, a colorless gas. About half the state, including major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, exceeds the health standard for fine particulates, which are linked to cancer, heart disease and other ailments.”
Californians Lose Some Enthusiasm Supporting Environmental Issues
In July 2009 the private Public Policy Institute of California/PPIC released a survey focusing on Californian’s opinions on climate change, air pollution, and energy policy. More than 2500 California residents completed the PPIC survey, and the result highlights included a couple surprising statistics such as:
Most residents (66%) support the 2006 California law (AB 32) that requires greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. Support has declined 7 points from July 2008 (73%) and 12 points from 2007 (78%). The decline is sharpest among Republicans (57% 2008, 43% today).
Only 23% of Californians saw air pollution as “a big problem” in their region, an 11-point drop since last year. In Los Angeles County, that segment dropped 17 points, to 30%, and in the Central Valley, it sank 15 points, to 36%.
Probably a lot of reasons for the decline in support of reducing greenhouse emissions, most likely due to concerns moving closer to the bad economy, and the immediate need for jobs over environmental concern. Other major areas showing changes, in some cases based on political party and partisan lines, include:
- Effects of global warming
- Government regulation of emissions
- Cap and Trade
- Carbon Taxes
The California Air Resources Board also released a lengthy report (524 pages) in July entitled the “California Almanac of Emissions and Air Quality – 2009 Edition.” The report includes air quality statistics for the period 1988 to 2007 for ozone, particulate matter (PM10), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and lead.
Again, while Southern California is making great progress in improving air quality, it is still among the worst in the nation, giving us ample opportunities to improve our quality of air and quality of life.
Not Just a California Problem
The European Space Agency has made several extensive studies of global pollution trends. The most pressing world problem involves the release of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), which when combined with rain produces “acid rain.”
Acid rain is a leading cause of deforestation, which of course kills trees, which of course further results in the earth’s inability to recover from over-production of greenhouse gases, in particularly the effects of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is (if you are a believer) the main cause of global warming.
NO2, when it returns to the earth in the form of acid rain, has the further effect of polluting lakes, rivers, and the oceans. This means fish kills, it means the fish you eat may not be healthy, and it means the food we produce in our farms and ranches will also have byproducts of airborne chemicals which join CO2 and NO2 as it is carried long distances by the wind.
The Environmental Protection Agency/EPA advises that
Taller smokestacks can lift pollutants high above a local community but help pollutants get into wind currents that can carry them hundreds, even thousands, of miles. For example, emissions from power plants and industrial boilers can travel hundreds of miles and contribute to smog, haze, and air pollution in downwind states.
One family of pollutants, nitrogen oxides, also reacts with other chemicals, sunlight and heat to form ground-level ozone. The nitrogen oxides and the ozone itself can be transported with the weather to help cause unhealthy air in cities and towns far downwind.
This means that our pollution produced in the LA area will eventually find its way into the wind leaving the LA Basin, and find its way to the Inland Empire, the Salton Sea agricultural areas, the wilderness areas of Arizona and New Mexico – an impact going far beyond the haze of Los Angeles.
Another Call to Arms
The risk to our city, our health, and the downstream impact of pollution is real. The California Air Quality Management District tells us thousands of LA-area resident die each year from ailments directly attributed to pollutants. The need to continue aggressively pursuing projects and plans to reduce our production of pollutants is real.
This blog article contains links to two very powerful reports (PPIC/CA-ARB). You don’t need to read through the entire report, but simply taking a look at the overviews on each report is quite enlightening. Then if you have a strong belief, on either side of the debate, let your elected representatives know.
John Savageau, Long Beach