Southern California had its share of heat waves and wildfires in the summer of 2018, but a hidden problem many Southern Californians might not have noticed is the smog that covered their part of the country. Is Southern California losing its battle against air pollution?
87-Day Smog In Southern California
Last June 19, Southern California violated the federal smog standards and continued on for 87 consecutive days. According to state monitoring data, the air pollution on every single day of the 87-day streak exceeded the federal health standard of 70 parts per billion (ppb) in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, and Riverside counties. In fact, data shows that the average ozone on June 22 even reached as high as 125 ppb.
Authorities on the matter are quite divided in regard to the data. For instance, Philip Fine, the deputy executive officer of the South Coast air district, said that it’s still a little better than last year because the levels are generally lower despite the prolonged period. On the other hand, board member and head of the Coalition for Clean Air, Joseph Lyou, shared his concern regarding the increasing longevity of the violation days, even if the intensity has decreased.
It was the longest streak of smog in the last 20 years, and the pollution only dropped to “moderate” on Sept. 14.
The term “smog” was coined in the 1900s as a mixture of the words “smoke” and “fog.” Back then, the smoke usually came from burning coal, and it was common in more industrial areas. Simply put, smog is air pollution that disturbs or reduces visibility, and it still occurs in cities today. In fact, places such as Beijing, China, experience what’s called an airpocalypse because of the extreme smog.
Today, however, most of the occurring smog is photochemical smog, which happens when the sunlight interacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound (VOC). The nitrogen oxides are emitted by car exhausts, coal plants, and factories, while the VOC’s are released by gasoline, paints, and some cleaning solvents. When the sunlight hits the chemicals in the atmosphere, airborne particles and ground-level ozones are formed.
While the ozone in the atmosphere is vital in the protection from harmful UV radiation, ground-level ozone may result in various health problems such as lung damage, especially among those with respiratory problems. Further, it can also cause burning or itchy eyes, and it's harmful for humans, animals, and even plants.
In the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2018,” Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Jose-San Francisco, Washington-Baltimore, and Salt Lake City were found to be the cities with the worst ozone pollution in the United States.