California Has Eight of 10 Most Polluted U.S. Cities
Forget the Golden State. California should be called the Smoggy State.
Eight of the USA's 10 most-polluted cities, in terms of ozone pollution, are in California, according to the American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" report, released Wednesday.
The Los Angeles/Long Beach area took the dubious distinction of being the nation's most ozone-polluted city as it has for nearly the entire 19-year history of the report.
Overall, the report said about 133 million Americans — more than four of 10 — live with unhealthful levels of air pollution, placing them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage and developmental and reproductive harm.
"We still have a lot to do in this country to clean up air pollution," said Lyndsay Moseley Alexander, director of the Association's Healthy Air Campaign.
The report looked at pollution levels from 2014 to 2016. Ozone pollution was worse overall in this report than it was in last year's report.
Bakersfield, Calif., was in second place for ozone pollution. Other California cities on the list include Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego. The only non-California metro areas in the top 10 list were Phoenix and New York City.
Of the 10 most-polluted cities, seven cities did worse in this year's report, including Los Angeles and the New York City metro area.
“Near record-setting heat from our changing climate has resulted in dangerous levels of ozone in many cities across the country, making ozone an urgent health threat for millions of Americans,” Lung Association President and CEO Harold P. Wimmer said.
Smog forms on warm, sunny days and is made worse from chemicals that exit vehicle tailpipes and from power plant and industrial smokestacks. Warmer temperatures make ozone more likely to form.
"This adds to the evidence that a changing climate makes it harder to reduce ozone pollution and protect human health," Alexander said
Bakersfield took the top spot in a list of cities with another variety of air pollution — small particulate matter, aka soot. Increased heat, changes in climate patterns, drought and wildfires — many related to climate change — contributed to the high number of days with unhealthy particulate matter.
Since California is known for its strict environmental regulations, why are so many cities from the state typically on this list? It's because the state would be far worse off without its strict laws on tailpipe pollution and eliminating coal-fired power plants. California has done more than any other state to counteract air pollution, the Lung Association said.
With this report, the Lung Association also calls out Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for ongoing threats to the nation’s air quality, including steps to roll back or weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act.
EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has taken many steps to roll back or put in loopholes to the Clean Air Act, Alexander said, adding that "the association is concerned and we will continue to fight for healthy air," she said.
Some good news in the report was that particulate pollution "generally continued to improve in 2014-16," the report said. This was true for both short-term particulate pollution and for year-round particulate pollution.
For year-round particle pollution, Fairbanks, Alaska, was the most-polluted city.
The Lung Association also lists the nation's cleanest cities, meaning ones that experience no high ozone or high particulate pollution days.
The nation's cleanest cities are Bellingham, Wash.; Burlington, Vt.; Casper, Wyo.; Honolulu; Melbourne, Fla.; and Wilmington, N.C.