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Air quality in LA County reportedly slipping backward

This article was first published July 4, 2019 on Our Weekly LA.

Air quality is slipping once again following improvements attributed to the 1970 Clean Air Act, it was reported this week.

Bad air days are ticking up across the nation, and emissions reductions are slowing. The most notable setback has been with ozone, the lung-damaging gas in smog that builds up in warm, sunny weather and triggers asthma attacks and other health problems that can be deadly, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Health effects from ozone pollution have remained essentially unchanged over the last decade—stubbornly high, according to a study published this year by scientists at New York University and the AmericanThoracic Society.

Nowhere is the situation worse than in Southern California, where researchers found a 10-percent increase in Southern California deaths attributable to ozone pollution from 2010 to 2017, The Times reported. The region has long reigned as the nation’s smog capital and has seen a resurgence of dirty air in the last few years, one that has sharpened the divide between wealthier coastal enclaves with cleaner air and lower-income communities further inland with smoggy air.

By the end of this year, California regulators must present the federal government with a plan demonstrating they are on track to slash ozone pollution. Officials say it will take billions in spending to meet smog-reduction deadlines under the Clean Air Act, but no one knows where the money will come from, according to The Times.

There are other obstacles, such as the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back emissions standards that California relies on to reduce pollution from cars and trucks. With each passing year, Southern California smog regulators are falling further behind in raising the $14 billion they say is needed to pay for less-polluting vehicles and clean the air to federal health standards.

Within Southern California, the amount of pollution you breathe is highly dependent on where you live.

Smog has eased considerably across the region compared with decades ago. The gains are particularly dramatic in areas closer to the coast such as L.A.’s Westside and downtown, which are now largely spared persistent unhealthy levels of ozone pollution. It’s another story farther inland, where communities such as San Bernardino continue to suffer more bad air days, elevated smog levels and some of the highest asthma rates in the state, The Times reported.

In 2018, there were only two bad air days for ozone pollution on the Westside and just four in downtown L.A. Not far away in the San Fernando Valley there were 49. San Bernardino had 102—more unhealthy air days than the city has logged since the mid-1990s, air monitoring records show.

“We’re not seeing the same improvements as people living near the coast,” said Anthony Victoria of the Riverside County-based Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice. “When you’re in San Bernardino you look toward the mountains and it’s not clear. You have layers of smog you can see in the sky. You have people with asthma struggling to breathe, and it’s a devastating thing.”

If California regulators fail to submit an adequate smog-reduction plan by the end of this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could begin imposing a series of escalating sanctions, including increased restrictions on polluting industries and the loss of federal highway funds. Even more draconian measures could take the form of no-drive days and gas rationing. Airports and shipping harbors could also face limits on emissions.

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