How is the air quality in Long Beach?

The below article talks about air quality and air pollution in Long Beach, the factors that contribute towards the air quality, along with some frequently asked questions about the same. 

How is the air quality in Long Beach?

Air quality in Long Beach is good, although it did have poor air quality in the past years and past projections do show that on a yearly basis, Long Beach does have bad air quality; for half of the year, and Long Beach enjoys good air quality and pollutant concentrations that meet global health standards for the other half of the year. Poor air quality in Long Beach can be directly attributed to port activities, vehicular emissions- especially cargo carriers, factory activities, refineries, industrial activities, emissions from power plants, etc. 

About Long Beach

Long Beach is a city in Los Angeles County in California, in the US. It is the 42nd most populated city in the country and the 7th most populated city in California, with a population of 466,742 as of April 2020 (USCB, 2020). The city lies on the San Pedro Bay, south of Los Angeles, and surrounds the city of Signal Hill. The port in the city is the second busiest port in the country and is amongst one of the largest shipping ports in the world. Originally, the land was Indian and it was eventually taken over by several colonizers and didn’t settle into a town until 1882. With the discovery of oil in 1921, industrial and harbor development and growth quickly brought the city to rapid growth into a metropolitan city following World War II. 

Long Beach houses some of the most extensive docking and storage facilities, making it one of the worlds’ largest and busiest, and yet preferred ports in the world. The city’s economic growth is dependent on diverse sources of revenue such as production services for aircraft or ships, oil refineries, food manufacturing and processing, marine research, etc. The city has a lot of hotspots, making it a prime attraction to various visitors and tourists. With respect to the environment, Long Beach has faced several concerns including damages following the 1993 earthquake, increased air and water pollution from the ports, factories, refineries, etc. It is also important to note that several native species of plants and animals are under threat for existence due to the rapid development of the city. 

Long Beach and Air Pollution

American Fitness Index released a list of the 10 worst cities for air pollution in the US and the top 10 cities were all in Arizona and California. Long Beach topped this list which also considered the city’s health levels, number of incidences of chronic cases, etc. The list was as follows (Schmidt G., 2019):

  1. Long Beach California
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Gilbert
  4. Pheonix 
  5. Scottsdale 
  6. Chandler 
  7. Mesa
  8. Glendale
  9. Riverside, California
  10. Bakersfield, California

Pollution levels in 2019, showed that Long Beach had some way to go in terms of improving air quality. Air quality was categorized to be moderate, in comparison to usual air quality levels in the area, this was unusual and put the city in a spotlight with calls to take immediate actions to address air pollution concerns. In an effort to identify the sources of pollution, it was reported that Long Beach had more ambient pollution, i.e., pollutants that caused higher pollution levels and air quality reading throughout the year, rather than those that came in once a while, produced a spike periodically in a year. One of the sources that were found to be constant was vehicular emissions, especially those from cars and other transportation vehicles that were involved with trade activities in the area. With the population in the city rising drastically, there were tens of thousands of private vehicles on the road at any given time. 

Moving further, the heavy-duty vehicles that were involved with various industries, factories, and refineries in the area, increased the impact caused by vehicular emissions in the city. Since large-scale transportation vehicles used larger amounts of fuel and were greater in size, they produced a lot more emissions in comparison to the general public-private vehicles. The other element that contributed towards greater emissions from these vehicles was the fact that these vehicles were mostly diesel-powered and thus emitted larger amounts of smoke and volatile organic compounds. 

With regards to the large port that is in the city, it is obvious that port activities would contribute to the large amounts of emissions from the city, as well as contribute towards increased water pollution in the area. With a number of ships docking into the port for engagement and trade with the city, large-scale emissions and not just air emissions, are observed from these sources. Considering that these ships carry tonnes of cargo, the vehicles that carry it into the land further contribute to the emissions that were otherwise provided by the local industrial activities. Other sources of air pollution include refineries, large-scale infrastructure projects including road construction and expansion, power plants, etc. 

Looking at the air quality readings for Long Beach to identify the period when air pollution is bad in the city, it was found that there were several months in the year with elevated concentrations of particulate matter, especially PM2.5, and this was more common in the second half of the year. Up until June, meteorologists observed that air quality levels were within limits, however, from July on, these levels started fluctuating and increasing from 9 μ/m3 in June to 24.8 μ/m3 in September and 24.5 μ/m3 in the following month. Air quality went from being good, to moderately polluted and cautions sent to sensitive groups of people in the city. The trend of increasing air pollution would decrease by the new year and would show the same pattern. 

The kind of pollutants that are released in the atmosphere is largely dependent on the activities in the area, therefore, the larger concentrations of pollutants in Long Beach would be those that emanate from vehicle and ship exhausts such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Nitrogen dioxide is mainly released from vehicle engines, while sulfur dioxide is emitted in larger quantities from ships. Both of these pollutants are major contributors to acid rain and have severe health impacts on humans including inflammation of the respiratory systems.  Since ships have different fuel requirements and regulations as those compared to land vehicles, it is found that the fuel used in ships has higher sulfur content. 

Other pollutants include ozone which is triggered into formation by the excess nitrogen oxides in the city reacting with the sunlight. The ozone produced causes smog in the city and accumulated in large amounts, it can severely impact the city and its activities, and the health of its citizens. While ozone is important in the higher levels of the atmosphere, at the lower levels of the atmosphere, it is dangerous and can cause serious impacts such as higher incidents of vehicle accidents, respiratory difficulties, increased occurrences of cardiovascular diseases and symptoms, etc. Other pollutants include black carbon, silica particles, gravel, dust particles, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, xylene, formaldehyde, and methylene chloride (IQAir, 2021). 

Understand the AQI readings

Sourced from The Air Quality Index Scale as defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA):

AQIPollution LevelHealth ImplicationsCautionary Statement 
0 – 50GoodAir quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no riskNone
51 -100ModerateAir quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants, there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.Vulnerable and at-risk children and adults, people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.
101-150Unhealthy for Sensitive GroupsMembers of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.Vulnerable and at-risk children and adults, and people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, should avoid outdoor exertion.
151-200UnhealthyEveryone may begin to experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effectsActive children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion
201-300Very UnhealthyHealth warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.Active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid all outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit outdoor exertion.
300+HazardousEmergency Health Alert: everyone has a higher vulnerability to experience more serious health effectsEveryone should avoid all outdoor exertion

There are varying AQI scales and interpretations globally, as different countries choose to interpret them differently in order to fit their needs. Any data observed from possibly biased sources need to be viewed in a careful manner as they could be inefficiencies or discrepancies in the data collected or analyzed. Various countries mold the scale to fit their needs so that they don’t come under the spotlight for being irresponsible towards their citizens. It is always crucial to therefore check private sources of air quality data, along with state governed sources; so as to ensure the efficiency and reliable interpretations of the readings you receive.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is the air quality in Long Beach poor?

Which cities in the US have the worst air quality?

Source: IQAir. (2021, December 24)

1Seeley Lake, Montana129
2Hillsdale, New York126
3Alpena, Michigan117
4Cortland West, New York115
5Lewiston, Maine114
6Rogers City, Michigan114
7Wausau, Wisconsin110
8Leland, Michigan108
9Butler, Wisconsin106
10Carter Lake, Iowa101

What is the air quality like in different areas in Long Beach?

Source: IQAir. (2021, December 24)

1Long Beach, Signal Hill30
2West Broadway11
3CCA – Maury and Tehachapi 27
4South Long Beach7
5NASA – Termino Avenue6
6Rosina Street6
7305 Corona Avenue5
8CCA 61st and Walnut5
9710 North Long Beach4
10Brayton Avenue4

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

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Brittanica. (2021, December 01). Long Beach. California, United States. Viewed on 12-24-2021.  

IQAir. (2021). Air Quality in Long Beach. Air quality index (AQI) and PM2.5 air pollution in Long Beach. Viewed on 12-24-2021. 

IQAir. (2021, December 24). Real-time Long Beach Air Quality Ranking. Live Long Beach AQI Ranking. Viewed on 12-24-2021. 

IQAir. (2021, December 24). Real-time USA City Ranking. Live AQI City Ranking. Viewed on 12-24-2021. 

Schmidt G. (2019, October 01). ‘Asthma Alley’: Long Beach ranks worst in U.S. for air quality. Cronkite News. Viewed on 12-24-2021. 

United States Census Bureau (USCB). (2020). QuickFacts. Long Beach city, California. Viewed on 12-24-2021. 

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