By Armando Mercado
The state of California has the worst air quality in the country, according to the State of the Air, the annual report of the American Lung Association.
Metropolitan areas exclusively from California occupy the top five places in deterioration by amounts of ozone and pollutant particles, both throughout the year and in the analysis of a single randomly chosen day.
The association’s vice president, Paul Billings, told La Prensa San Diego that air quality in California “has an alarming trend” of gradual deterioration.
Billings highlights the stark disparity in the impact of polluted air in California.
“We see the impacts of systemic environmental racism on those who bear thegreatest burden of pollution,” he said.
The report found a sharp increase in air pollution in California over the last five years, but 2022 is the worst. Before 2017, the trend was for a decrease in pollution for 23 consecutive years.
The American Lung Association looks at all kinds of pollution as harmful. Still, it warns especially about so-called fine particles, which are so fine that they breathe so deep into the lungs that they reach the bloodstream.
For example, there are fine particles from cement or diesel near places where commercial trucks pass frequently. Inhaling them is related to asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart disease, and other cardiovascular diseases.
The association warned that the five metropolitan regions with the worst air quality for fine particles are all in California throughout the year. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, Visalia, the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland area, and Los Angeles.
The people who live in those regions together reach 20 million residents. One in every two people in California lives in one of the areas of the country with the worst ongoing fine particulate pollution.
The American Lung Association also looked at air pollution for 24 hours on a randomly chosen day. California has Bakersfield, Fresno-Madera-Hanford, Visalia, the San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, and Los Angeles.
Only one region from Arizona appears on the list of the worst areas with ozone pollution; the others are from California, Los Angeles-Long Beach, Bakersfield, Visalia and Fresno-Madera-Hanford regions, and Phoenix, Arizona.
Los Angeles ranks in the top five in all of the three metrics the National Lung Association included. It isalso, along with Long Beach, the most impacted region.
The 2022 report found that 137 million Americans, 4 out of 10, live in counties with harmful levels of ozone or particulate pollution, which is 2.1 million more people than last year’s report.
The association found that air pollution harms 1,289,000 poor Los Angeles residents and 7,372,841 people of color in Los Angeles.
The report says that “communities discriminated against on racial or ethnic grounds suffer disproportionately from exposure to unhealthy air.”
The report found that people of color are 61 percent more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing rating for at least one pollutant and 3.6 times more likely to live in a county with a failing rating for the three pollutants.
Those most affected by air pollution are those who are poor and are people of color. Low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to live near pollution hotspots, such as truck corridors, train tracks,and seaports.
The American Lung Association includes in its annual report the ten cities with the best air quality in the country, but none of them are in the state of California.
The report also warns that the greater the pollution, the more fires, and with more forest fires, more significant pollution, as in an endless circle.
“Rising temperatures and other effects related to climate change contribute to increasingly intense wildfires and make ozone air pollution more likely to form,” says State of the Air 2022.
The report “calls on the Biden administration to strengthen national limits on air pollution in the short term.”
“State of the Air 2022’ shows that an unacceptable number of Americans are still living in areas with poor air quality that could impact their health,” said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association.
The report continues to show long-term improvement in the nation’s air quality thanks to decades of work to reduce emissions. However, this has been offset in part by the negative impacts of hotter, drier conditions caused by climate change.
For the first time, the Lung Association included Puerto Rico air pollution data, and listed pregnant people as a group at higher risk for harms associated with poor air quality.