Air Pollution: O.C. Gets ‘Fs’; L.A. Worst

(April 28, 2010)

The Orange County Register

April 28, 2010

While air pollution levels across the nation are improving, the Los Angeles-Riverside area remains the worst in the country for one key pollutant and the third worst for another, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

Orange County, though included in the group's L.A. metropolitan region, typically has cleaner air than Los Angeles. But although the county does not appear among the state's 25 worst, it did receive failing grades from the organization for ozone pollution and year-round levels of fine particles, mainly from fuel combustion.

The fact that Orange County didn't rank among the worst California counties "doesn't mean the air is healthy," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, the Lung Association's senior director for policy and air quality.

"As part of a broader metropolitan region, the region does rank as No. 1," she said. "People in the entire region are at risk of breathing unhealthy air."

The yearly report, "State of the Air," totals up readings for a variety of types of pollution, then ranks cities nationwide.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside area was No. 1 for ground-level ozone, a common pollutant that can aggravate asthma and other lung conditions.

The area came in third for year-round fine particle pollution, which can work its way deeply into lungs and is a matter of increasing concern to air-quality agencies.

"Ozone can shorten life, just like particle pollution," Holmes-Gen said, citing a state estimate of 19,000 deaths each year in California from those two pollutants combined.

The lung association says 91 percent of Californians, more than 33 million people, live in counties that received failing air-quality grades, breathing harmful levels of ozone and particle pollution.

While air pollution has improved markedly on the East Coast, California also is showing improvement, Holmes-Gen said, but should take a variety of measures to improve air quality in troubled areas.

"California has been a leader in pollution control," she said. "We need to continue that trend in California."

Part of that should include broader use of plug-in electric hybrid vehicles as well as reliance on other kinds of alternative fuels.

The report covers the period from 2006 to 2008, the most recent available in complete form.