Downtown L.A.

BY: Paige Austin

LOS ANGELES, CA — Los Angeles County residents, are once again suffering the dubious distinction of living among the nation's worst air pollution, according to an American Lung Association report released Wednesday. LA has endured the nation's most unhealthful air for 19 of the 20 years the Lung Association has produced the annual "State of the Air" report, and the problem is getting worse, researchers found.

The Los Angeles-Long region had the nation's worst ozone pollution between 2015 and 2017 and was also among the country's worst places for particle pollution, or soot. The pollution affects the health and longevity of residents, and global warming appears to be exacerbating the problem.

According to the report, the average number of unhealthy ozone days increased in Los Angeles-Long Beach in this year's report, compared to last year's.

Authors of the report wrote that the document "adds to the evidence that a changing climate is making it harder to protect human health."

"The three years covered in this report ranked as the hottest years on record globally," according to the report. "High ozone days and spikes in particle pollution zoomed, putting millions more people at risk and adding challenges to the work cities are doing across the nation to clean up."

Harold Wimmer, the group's president and CEO, said that after years of progress, there's clear evidence of a "disturbing trend," with many Americans seeing their air quality worsening due to wildfires and weather patterns. Climate change is fueling that trend, he said.

"This increase in unhealthy air is eye-opening, and points to the reality that the nation must do more to protect the public from serious, even life-threatening harm," Wimmer said in a news release. "There is no clearer sign that we are facing new challenges than air pollution levels that have broken records tracked for the past twenty years, and the fact that we had more days than ever before when monitored air quality reached hazardous levels for anyone to breathe."

The report estimated that 43.3 percent of the American population lives in counties with unhealthy ozone and/or particle pollution levels. It also found that 141.1 million people were exposed to unhealthy air during the study period, up from 133.9 million in last year's report and 125 million in 2017's document.

"More must be done to address climate change and to protect communities from the growing risks to public health," according to the report. "This year's report covered the three warmest years in modern history and demonstrates the increased risk of harm from air pollution that comes despite other protective measures being in place.

"The Clean Air Act must remain intact and enforced to enable the nation to continue to protect all Americans from the dangers of air pollution."

The report graded air quality using color codes. Maroon refers to hazardous air quality, while purple and red refer to very unhealthy and unhealthy, respectively. Orange means the air was unhealthy for people with sensitive health conditions.

Here's what the report found for Los Angeles County:

  • High ozone days:
  • Grade: F
  • Orange days: 209
  • Red days: 83
  • Purple days: 12
  • Particle pollution
  • Grade: F
  • Orange days: 29
  • Red days: 7
  • Purple days: 0
  • Maroon days: 0
  • Grade (annual): Fail

The report looked at three years of data on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants from 2015-17, which were the warmest years in recorded history.

Particle pollution comes from many sources, including wildfires, wood-burning devices, coal plants and diesel engines. Particulate matter is dangerous because it becomes lodged deep in the lungs and can enter the bloodstream, triggering asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and, in some cases, causing lung cancer. For the study, researchers with the Lung Association measured particle pollution in both short- and long-term intervals. Short-term refers to daily spikes that can prove deadly, while long-term refers to yearly average.

California, which has been devastated by wildfires in recent years, is home to four of the 10 cities most polluted by short-term particle pollution, and six of the 10 most polluted year-round. Furthermore, the Golden State is home to seven of the 10 most ozone-polluted cities.

Ozone pollution, often called smog, is unhealthy and essentially leaves a sunburn on the lungs, the report said. Breathing in ozone can leave people suffering from shortness of breath and cause bouts of coughing, asthma attacks and even early death.

Here are the 10 places most polluted by ozone:

  1. Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA
  2. Visalia, CA
  3. Bakersfield, CA
  4. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, CA
  5. Sacramento-Roseville, CA
  6. San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, CA
  7. Phoenix-Mesa, AZ
  8. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, CA
  9. Houston-The Woodlands, TX
  10. New York-Newark, NY–NJ-CT-PA

City News Service and Patch staffers Dan Hampton and Paige Austin contributed to this report.