Smog-filled skies are a familiar sight to Southern Californians, but residents breathed dirty air for almost three straight months this summer.
Southern California violated federal smog standards for 87 consecutive days beginning June 19, setting the area’s longest bad-air streak in the past two decades according to state monitoring data.
Until Sept. 14, air exceeded 70 parts per billion within the South Coast Air Basin covering Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. When the streak ended, the air marked "moderate" pollution levels after peaking at 125 parts per billion. The public, especially children and people with asthma, faces higher respiratory health risks above that ozone standard.
Nationally, 41 percent of the population live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association. California claims eight of the country's most ozone-polluted cities, including the No.1-ranked Los Angeles/Long Beach area, per the association's 2018 "State of the Air" report.
Still, environmental and public health experts expressed concerns about the dirty air streak.
“The fact that we keep violating and having this many days should be a wake-up call,” Michael Kleeman, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at University of California, Davis, told the Los Angeles Times.
With rising temperatures across the country, researchers are looking into climate change's impact on air quality. Atmospheric warming associated with climate change can increase ground-level ozone, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Besides threatening sensitive vegetation and ecosystems, ozone pollution can aggravate asthma, bronchitis or emphysema symptoms. It has also been linked to coughing and pain when breathing deeply, lung and throat irritation and wheezing and trouble breathing during exercise or outdoor activities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“There’s no question that people with pre-existing lung diseases, particularly asthmatics, have had a harder time this year than they would have in previous years where there weren’t so many exceedances,” Michael Jerrett, chair of environmental health sciences at UCLA, told the Los Angeles Times.
About 23 million people in the United States have asthma, which disproportionately affects children, lower-income communities and minorities, according to the EPA.