Breathe Deeply

A friend just turned me on to this site where you can see animated maps of air quality for SoCal. It looks like it’s part of AIRnow, a cross-agency air pollution info site run by The Man. If you dig through, there’s lots of useful info about how they measure this kind of stuff, including explanations of particle pollution (which I wasn’t that familiar with), and good and bad ozone. Also, if you watch the animated map you can see how the air quality changes throughout the day. You would think living in L.A. would give you all kinds of knowledge about air pollution, but other than people complaining about it I never hear that much.

7 Replies to “Breathe Deeply”

  1. You would think living in L.A. would give you all kinds of knowledge about air pollution, but other than people complaining about it I never hear that much.

    Maybe you would think that, but after 28 years of living in LA, I know better. :-)

    Indeed, based on my own experience, I’d say that most people, tourist or resident, can’t tell the difference between smog and marine-layer aerial haze.

    And most Angelenos don’t have any real historical perspective. I’ve met many people who simply assume that the smog is getting worse and worse every year.

    Quite the contrary: the overall trend is one of ongoing improvement. LA’s air quality is better now than it’s been at any time since the postwar building boom first took off.

    The very worst LA smog was back in the mid-1950s, before the city instituted trash pickup and banned residential incinerators.

    Even in the 1970s, when I first arrived, it was pretty seriously nasty. In 1978, my first year here, there were more than a hundred First-Stage Smog Alerts, and twenty-some Second-Stage Alerts.

    That’s a Smog Alert on more than one out of every three days of the year.

    Today, we haven’t had a Second-Stage Alert in well over a decade; and we’ve had several years recently without any First-Stage Alerts.

    On those rare occasions when we do have a First-Stage Alert, it’s usually the subject of a flurry of alarmed news reportage. (As well it should be.)

    LA has put a lot of effort into reducing pollution, and a lot of that effort has paid off.

    In fact, if you look at the EPA’s animated maps, you’ll notice that the worst air pollution in the South Coast Air Quality Management District isn’t even in LA – it’s out in the Riverside/San Bernardino area and up in the Santa Clarita Valley.

    Those locales haven’t put as much effort into reducing pollution as LA has. For many years, they simply blamed their air pollution on LA – until it became more and more obvious that LA’s air quality was improving, while theirs was deteriorating.

    LA is no longer the air-pollution capital of the world. (I believe that dubious honor now belongs to Mexico City – or at least it did last time I checked.)

    It’s also not the air-pollution capital of America any more – the Bakersfield/Fresno and Houston areas are now running neck-and-neck with the LA area.

    In fact, LA isn’t even the air-pollution capital of Southern California any more – a lot of the statistics you hear quoted for “LA” are actually for the entire South Coast AQMD, which includes both Riverside/San Bernardino and Santa Clarita.

    That’s not to say that LA’s air is perfectly clean, of course. There’s still work to be done, and it’s getting harder, since we’ve already applied most of the easy fixes.

    Some of the remaining problems, like the plume of particulate emissions generated by unregulated Diesel engines on ships in the the LA and Long Beach Harbors, will be much more difficult to solve.

    But we’re working on it.

  2. BUT FOR GOD’S SAKE, DON’T TELL ANYONE OUTSIDE OF LA ABOUT THIS.

    Our reputation for killer smog is about the only thing keeping another three million snowbound midwesterners from moving here. :-)

  3. Growing up in the San Gabriel valley, a little further inland, I remember plenty of hot spring and late fall days where we’d have such bad air quality that p.e. for the afternoon would have to be cancelled. I also got the chance to learn more about pollution here because of a class I took that looked at the subject in college. As far as I know, at least LA is not as bad as Mexico City.

  4. Growing up in the San Gabriel valley, a little further inland, I remember plenty of hot spring and late fall days where we’d have such bad air quality that p.e. for the afternoon would have to be cancelled.)

    Yep, those were the Second-Stage Alerts. “Hazardous for sensitive individuals, unhealthful for everyone.”

    I remember reading an interview with a self-styled “eco-activist” who’d been arrested for torching a bunch of SUVs on a dealer’s lot in Washington… or was it Oregon? I don’t recall exactly.

    Anyway, he related a similar story of growing up in LA and being kept indoors at recess because of the terrible air quality. And then he said, “And of course you know it’s only gotten worse since then.”

    And I thought, gee, no wonder he’s resorting to terrorism. If LA’s air had only gotten worse since then, I’d probably be blowing up SUV dealers, too.

    The capper was one of his friends, who did a long rant about evil air-polluting SUVs, while sitting in his own early-60s vintage Volkswagen – which puts out about five or ten times as much pollution as today’s biggest, ugliest SUV.

  5. Glen,

    There’s a whole class on air poulltion at UCLA. Of course, all the non-science majors take it to fulfill physical science general education requirements, but if you live in LA or Southern California you should know about the air you’re breathing. You mentioned that Mexico City was the worst, and the last time I looked closely at air pollution, Mexico City won out. The high altitude and fact that it’s inland is part of the reason the air quality is so bad there, but of course you can’t deny the millions of people and the automobiles contribute as well.

  6. Actually, as I understand it, one of Mexico City’s biggest air-pollution problems is (was?) the large number of buildings powered by rooftop propane storage tanks.

    Because the tanks are located on rooftops in the open air, a lot of minor leaks get ignored.

    All that leaking propane fills the air with unburned hydrocarbons, and, as we all know, when you combine unburned hydrocarbons with sunshine and an inversion cap, you get nasty photochemical smog.

    (That’s also why I was uncertain about their current status – propane tank leaks should be an easy problem to fix – and might have been fixed by now, for all I know.)

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