Is LA Smog good or bad?

The below article talks about LA Smog, the phenomenon that came to be named “LA Smog”, what it means, what are the next steps, along with some frequently asked questions about air quality and LA Smog. 

LA Smog: Good or Bad?

LA smog refers to widely polluted air in an area through varying types of pollutants. It can be directly attributed to vehicular emissions, industrial emissions, haphazard burning of fuel sources or waste, etc. that causes foggy and hazy conditions in an area that can cause tearing of the eyes, breathing difficulties, and dizziness amongst other uncomfortable symptoms. Over the years, increasing levels of pollution have contributed to the chronic health implications in citizens following their long-term exposure to LA Smog. 

What do you need to know about LA Smog?

During World War II, on 26 July 1943, LA was shrouded with thick haze and fog causing severe distress to citizens in the area. There was a sudden increase in the number of car accidents due to lack of visibility and physical health symptoms like watery eyes, blurred vision, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, etc. started to appear amongst kids and adults alike.  

Visibility reduced to an approximate 3 block distance, citizens and state actors began to think that it was a gas attack instigated by the “enemy”. However, it wasn’t until much later that authorities found that the enemy was not a foreign state, but rather their own aggravated anthropological activities that exponentially increased air pollution levels in areas causing the thick smog. 

Since the smog attack was in the midst of a heatwave in LA, symptoms that arose were in increasing degrees of severity causing citizens to create an uproar for immediate action. With the officials trying to find the culprit for the major source of pollution, they identified Sothern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Street Plant as the main culprit behind poor air quality. The public pressure that followed, forced the company to shut down, however, the smog attacks did not stop. Which led to believe that the company alone could not be blamed for the deteriorating air quality in LA. 

In the following years, the plant authorities spent over 1.5 million USD to completely eliminate the emissions of their chemical fumes (AQMD, n.d.), and the city started to take major steps to improve the air quality. From banning backyard trash incinerators, reformulating gasoline, developing zero-emission fuel-cell electric vehicles, to creating inspired technological innovations to address air pollution. Over the last handful of years, state actors and citizens have made major progress in addressing the issues of air pollution. However, reports from as late as 2020 show that LA still suffers from poor air quality due to the smog, and leaves devastating impacts in its wake. 

Timeline of Activities following the original LA Smog

1943First recognized smog attack
1945LA begins air pollution control programs
1950Buses are replaced with electric public transit systems
1952Dr. Aerie Haagen – Smit discovers the causes of the LA Smog, also now known as the photochemical smog
1956Increase in the number of highway constructions due to the Highway Act
1963The first federal act is published that clearly defines “air quality”
1965Increase in accountability by starting efficient readings of ozone measurements in LA
1966Tailpipe emissions standards are adopted in California
1968California Air Resources Board (CARB) is funded
1970US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) is funded
1971Air quality standards are defined 
1975The usage of two-way catalytic converters are enforced LA exceeds Stage 1 Smog Alerts on average of 118 days, per year
1984California Smog Check Program Starts
1995LA exceeds Stage 1 Smog Alerts on average of 14 days, per year
2004The nations’ first greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars is mandated by Legislature and approved by CARB
2006Global Warming Solutions Act is signed, giving CARB new roles in reducing smog-causing emissions
2012Implementation of California’s Advanced Clean Cars Program
2017CARB establishes Community Air Protection Program (CAPP)

Sources: LA Smog Handout (n.d.) and CARB (n.d.)

For further detailed information about all the programs that were enforced in California in relation to improving air quality, please follow this link to CARB’s official webpage about specific climate actions taken up. 

Air Quality in LA in recent times

LA over the years has made significant changes in its air quality. However, recent reports show that even amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, Southern California in 2020, experienced its highest smog levels in decades. Intense heatwaves across the region increased ozone pollution levels in the area causing massive smog from the inland to the coast, and that coupled with the incidents of the wildfires, California experienced some of the worst days of air quality in 2020.

Various reports show that the city experienced approximately 157 bad air pollution levels in terms of ozone pollution, and Philip Fine, a deputy executive officer at the South Coast Air Quality Management District was quoted the following, “There’s no sugarcoating it, this was a really, really, bad ozone year.” The region had over 30 days of poor particulate matter pollution and poot. These numbers increased in the following months due to the wildfires and smokes. (Barboza T., 2020) 

The decreasing trends of air quality have been a major hindrance in the implementation of the clean air programs by CARB as well as other stakeholders, and have added to the increasing number of health issues during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This has put immense pressure on larger stakeholders and polluters like the oil refineries to curb their activities in an effort to improve air quality. Researchers report that the highest levels of ozone pollution in 26 years was reported on September 6, 2020, where the levels exceeded 120 degrees than the normal, for the first time in the record (Barboza T., 2020).

Influential factors and what next?

The air quality levels in LA were exacerbated due to intense heat along with the stagnant weather, and weak winds that couldn’t sweep away the smog and pollution. Along with bad pollution levels, and increasing temperatures due to global warming, high-pressure systems caused due to the wildfires, and other environmental factors, stakeholders need to consider comprehensive solutions that address multiple requirements in order to curb the air quality levels from decreasing. Some of the measures taken would be as follows:

  • Encouraging citizens to make the switch to electric vehicles as studies have shown that partially reducing vehicular emissions does not have enough impact, and to completely get rid of the nitrogen oxide pollutants, we need to completely make the shift to electric vehicle systems.
  • Provide subsidies and tax cut-offs to larger polluters to switch to cleaner sources of fuel.
  • Enforce the polluter pays principle where the largest contributors to the air quality are fined for its destructive practices. 
  • Planting more trees in an effort to create a carbon sink to reduce the temperatures in the area. 
  • Take large-scale climate actions to address the community’s needs and meet global commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 
  • Reduce the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from all sources, regardless of the size or the degree of impact. This could mean that the city could ban the usage of high VOC paints, chemicals, cleaning solutions, hairsprays, air fresheners, chemical solvents, etc. This would be key to ensuring that ozone levels are below the recommended levels. 
  • Reduce emissions from industries and other primary small-scale sources such as incinerators or burning of raw fuel sources and waste. 
  • Enforce strict health standards and air quality regulations on relevant stakeholders, and ensure there is increased accountability between them through efficient and continuous monitoring and evaluation of these standards.
  • Conduct effective and periodical monitoring of the programs implemented to ensure that they are relevant to the circumstances at hand and that they can be modified to meet the demands at the time. 
  • Increase participation and accountability between stakeholders at all levels and beneficiaries to ensure that a participatory approach is used to address community issues and that it is inculcated into any strategy that may be implemented. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is LA Smog good or bad?

What are the top polluted cities in the US currently?

As of December 2, 2021, the most polluted cities in the US are as follows (IQAir, 2021):

RankingCityUS AQI (US Air Quality Index)
1La Mirada, California185
2Shafter, California173
3Avenal, California170
4Channelview, Texas153
5Del Aire, California150
6Nampa, Idaho147
7Salida, California147
8Hidden Valley, Arizona146
9Rodeo, California146
10Easton, California144

Did the COVID-19 Pandemic improve air quality in LA?

Researchers in LA recognized that the pandemic caused a massive curb in CO2 emissions from vehicular emissions during the pandemic, and it showed that curbing one source of pollution is not going to be enough to address the air quality concerns in the city. Even with more than half of the vehicles out of the road during the pandemic, the city experienced one of the worst levels of smog in decades. This showed that CO2 cannot stop the rapid decreases in air quality or stop the smog attacks in the city. 

City officials have also stated that nitrogen oxide emissions had reduced by 20% at the beginning of the Pandemic, but have since rebounded after the lift of the lockdowns. Therefore, researchers are now focusing on other major ozone generating pollutants and sources which need to be curbed in order to stop the smog attacks in the city. 

The actions that follow these decisions and studies, could be anything from banning the usage of hairsprays and air fresheners to planting more trees. It is believed that the next step to address air quality concerns would be to address sources of non-traffic emissions, as it is believed that these products have a more predominant role than previously estimated. 

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

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Barboza T. (2020, December 07). Los Angeles began 2020 with a clean-air streak but ended with its worst smog in decades. Viewed on 12-02-2021. 

Barboza T. (2020, September 10). Los Angeles suffers worst smog in almost 30 years. Los Angeles Times. Viewed on 12-02-2021. 

California Air Resources Board (CARB). (n.d.). History. Viewed on 12-02-2021. 

California Air Resources Board (CARB). (n.d.). Programs. Viewed on 12-02.2021.  

IQAir. (2021, December 02). Real-time USA City Ranking. Live AQI City Ranking. Viewed on 12-02-2021. 

LA Smog Handout. (n.d.). Los Angeles Smog. Viewed on 12-02-2021.  

South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD). (n.d.). The Southland’s War on Smog: Fifty Years of Progress towards clean air (through May 1997). Viewed on 12-02-2021.