Lung Association: LA's Air Quality Improves, But Still Worst in Nation

(FOX 11 / CNS) Despite making progress in improving the environment, Southern California still has some of the most polluted air in the country, posing a continuing risk of health problems for residents, according to a report released today.

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The American Lung Association's "State of the Air 2015" report says the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside region has the worst ozone pollution problem in the nation, even though Southern California as a whole has seen improvements in battling ozone over the past 15 years.

"People are still breathing too much pollution in Southern California and we need to step up our efforts," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, the association's senior director for air quality and climate change. "Air pollution is still a serious health hazard, but solutions are at hand."

Home to more than 40 percent of all Californians, the Southland is challenged in terms of air quality by its large population, weather and geography, the drought, and conditions in the basin that allows smog to form and linger.

The report recommended that pollution "hotspots" -- including freeways, major roadways, ports, rail yards and trucking centers -- be the focus of additional monitoring.

It noted that unhealthy ozone days have dropped by 38 percent since the year 2000, when there were 190 bad air days, compared to 117 bad air days in the new report period.

"That's about four months of polluted air," Holmes-Gen said.

The report recommended a stronger commitment to zero-emission vehicles and fuels and improved community planning to increase alternatives to driving, such as walking, biking and public transit.

"There is a whole new emphasis on zero- emission cars, biking and public transport," Holmes-Gen said. "We're making progress. Residents of Los Angeles can be proud because programs are working and we're seeing reductions in the pollution levels people are breathing."

The report found that Orange County was the cleanest county in the region, chiefly due to coastal breezes.

"Hybrid cars are making a difference -- transportation is the source of the vast majority of pollution in Southern California -- and we need to transform our transportation to the cleanest sources," Holmes-Gen said.

"Every zero-emission vehicle is reducing pollution," she said.

Air pollution causes and exacerbates lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and can even cause early death. While the Southland has made tremendous strides in improving air quality, drier winters and drought conditions have affected this year's results, according to the association.

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