SGV Tribune

Worst smog in America is in L.A. metro region

The American Lung Association survey names San Bernardino County the nation’s smoggiest county.

The five-county Los Angeles metro area is the smoggiest region in the country, according the American Lung Association annual State of the Air report. It’s the 20th time in 21 annual surveys the area has topped the list.

Breaking it down further, San Bernardino County is named the worst county in the nation for smog, also known as ozone, and is followed by Riverside and Los Angeles counties, according to the report. Orange County also received a failing grade for smog although it was not listed among the country’s 25 worst.

While the Los Angeles region’s air is the worst, the number of people living in areas with unhealthy air has increased nationwide for the fourth consecutive lung association survey. The reports cover a three-year period based on the most current governmental data, with the 2020 survey documenting 2016 through 2018.

The state has long boasted the nation’s strictest motor-vehicle emissions regulations, is a leader in initiatives encouraging zero-emissions vehicles and has dramatically reduced air pollution in the last 50 years.

But the volume of cars and trucks — particularly in Southern California — is a primary reason counties in the state continue to rank as the nation’s smoggiest. The country’s 10 smoggiest counties are all in California.

Additionally, California’s efforts have been undermined by wildfires, climate change and the Trump administration’s moves to roll back clean air regulations, the report said. The three years covered by the report were among the five hottest on record and heat directly contributes to increased ozone levels.

The report comes at a time when the region is experiencing unusually clean air, a result of stay-at-home orders in place to fight the spread of coronavirus. And the cleaner air of the past month offers a glimpse of what could be, according to those at the lung association press teleconference Monday for the release of the report.

“We can have air like this all the time if we’re willing to work toward cleaner energy and cleaner transportation solutions,” said John Balmes, a member of the California Air Resources Board and a professor of medicine at the UC San Francisco.

Trump attacked

Beside ranking regions by the amount of smog, the report gives grades for soot, also called small particle pollution. The soot ratings are given for the worst day and the worst annual average, with Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties received failing grades in both categories. Orange County received a passing grade for the annual average, but a failing grade for the worst single-day pollution.

Exposure to high levels of soot increases the likelihood of death for those with COVID-19, according to a recent report from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

For year-round soot levels, San Bernardino County ranked fifth worst nationwide, Riverside County was eighth and Los Angeles was fifteenth. In Southern California, only Los Angeles County made the top 25 for single-day soot levels.

The report was fiercely critical of the Trump administration for environmental rollbacks that it says hurt air quality, but which supporters say addresses over-regulation that overburdens business and the economy. Among the lung association’s nine detailed criticisms:

  • “In 2020, EPA and the Department of Transportation finalized rules to weaken limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars… Even more drastically, in 2019 the administration decided to attack the rights states have to set strong standards.” There is now a legal battle over states’ rights to set their own emissions and mileage quotas.
  • “Not only has this administration targeted specific Clean Air Act safeguards for rollbacks, it has also sought to weaken EPA’s ability to set future protections.”
  • In March, the EPA proposed a measure the lung association dubbed, “Censoring Science,” saying it “would permit EPA to restrict scientific studies the agency considers when it make policy.”
  • “EPA has taken multiple steps to weaken pollution limits for the (oil and gas) industry.”