Despite Improvements, California Has Some of the Dirtiest Air in the Nation

Apr 28, 2010, 00:01 ET from American Lung Association in California

American Lung Association 2010 State of the Air Report Cites Dangerously High Air Pollution Across the State, Putting the Health of Californians At Risk

OAKLAND, Calif., April 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Californians continue to be at risk from the dangerous air pollution they breathe every day. Despite significant progress that has been made in improving air quality over the past two decades, the American Lung Association's 2010 State of the Air Report shows that Californians breathe some of the worst air in the nation. Over 91 percent of Californians  - more than 33 million - live in counties with failing air quality grades and are subject to persistent and pervasive ozone smog and harmful particle pollution, particularly in areas such as Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and the San Joaquin Valley.  Californians also breathe unhealthy air more than 100 days annually.

The exposure to dangerous air pollution causes significant health problems, particularly for young people under 18, older people over 65 and people living in poverty.  In fact, this year's report found that in California, 92 percent of people living in poverty live in counties with failing grades.  Moreover, poor air quality takes a disproportionate toll on people who suffer from lung diseases such as asthma and cardiovascular disease.

"California has led the nation in fighting pollution, yet we still face enormous challenges to improve our air quality," said Jane Warner, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in California.  "More Californians die each year from air pollution than die in car accidents.  We can and must do more to protect the health of the people of this great state," Warner continued.

Air pollution takes a considerable toll on California, not only in lives but in major health care costs. Annually, the state's dirty air causes 19,000 premature deaths, 9,400 hospitalizations and more than 300,000 respiratory illnesses including asthma and acute bronchitis. Moreover, a recent study released by the RAND Corporation found that the state's dirty air cost $193 million in hospital and emergency room visits between 2005 and 2007.

The 2010 State Of The Air Report shows that for ozone pollution, 74 percent of California counties receive an "F" grade, compared to only 18 percent that receive an "A." For harmful 24-hour particle pollution, nearly 50 percent of counties receive an "F," another 15 percent a "D" with only 17 percent receiving an "A." Moreover, many California cities and counties top the lists of the worst polluted areas in the country for ozone and particle pollution.

Specifically, of the top 10 cities in the nation with the worst air pollution, California ranked as follows:


8 of the top 10

Annual Particle Pollution

5 of the top 10

Short-Term Particle Pollution

7 of the top 10

#1 Los Angeles

#2 Bakersfield

#1 Bakersfield

#2 Bakersfield

#3 Los Angeles

#2 Fresno

#3 Visalia

#4 Visalia

#4 Los Angeles

#4 Fresno

#6 Fresno

#6 Sacramento

#5 Sacramento

#8 Hanford

#8 Visalia

#6 Hanford

#9 Modesto

#8 San Diego

#10 Hanford

#9 San Luis Obispo

California's pollution problems are primarily driven by high emissions from a variety of transportation and diesel sources, busy ports, oil refineries and power plants as well as residential wood burning combined with unique weather and terrain that is conducive to trapping pollution.  The air pollution grades were influenced by the wild fires experienced in various parts of the state during 2008, the last year of data included in this State of the Air Report.

Despite these grim numbers, the air quality overall has been improving during the 11 years the American Lung Association has been publishing this report all while the state underwent significant growth in population and cars on the road. For example, while Los Angeles has ranked number one in the U.S. for ozone pollution for the past two years, it has seen the number of high ozone days drop 25 percent since the release of the 2000 report.  Salinas and San Luis Obispo also rank in the top 25 cleanest cities for particle pollution.

The progress made to reduce air pollution is a result of California's strong regulatory and legislative policy as well as the continued investments that have been made to tackle some of the most harmful emissions affecting health and air quality. Three state programs have combined resources of over $1 billion rolling out now and over the next several years to address diesel emission reductions through incentive funding. Diesel control regulations and funding for cleaner technologies and equipment have helped replace and retrofit thousands of diesel trucks and school buses.

"The American Lung Association in California will continue to advocate for strong regulations and increased investment in programs that reduce harmful pollution. We are urging the California Air Resources Board to maintain the state's critical diesel regulations and bring zero emission and other advanced clean cars to California. We also call on Californians to reject the Texas oil companies' attempt to undue California's clean air and clean energy laws," said Warner.

"Individuals can also improve air quality in their communities," continued Warner. "We ask all Californians to make an effort to reduce driving and wood burning, replace light bulbs with energy efficient fluorescent bulbs, recycle cans, bottles and newspapers and to use a gas or electric grill for outdoor grilling," Warner said.

To see the full California report, regional data and trend data, go to:

SOURCE American Lung Association in California