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SOUTHLAND AIR GETTING BETTER BUT STILL BAD LUNG ASSOCIATION ISSUES NEW REPORT.

Byline: BRAD A. GREENBERG

Staff Writer

Go ahead and breathe easier, but not too deeply.

The Southland's long- maligned air quality keeps getting better, but Los Angeles area residents are still sucking in the most polluted air in the nation, according to a report being released today.

The annual State of the Air report by the American Lung Association found that from 2003 to 2005, the L.A. metropolitan area continued to have the highest levels of ozone and particulate pollution.

But over the period, residents in the L.A. area -- which in the study included Long Beach and Riverside -- suffered from dangerously high pollution levels for fewer days of the year.

"We have a long way to go," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, assistant vice president of government relations for the association's California division. "We have daunting challenges in moving away from fossil fuels, in moving away from petroleum in our state.

"But we have been incredibly aggressive and innovative in improving our emissions."

Despite such exaltations, California remains plagued by air pollution.

Twenty-six counties got an "F" in air quality -- including all of Southern California. Only Salinas made the clean-cities list.

Exposure widespread

Nationwide, almost half of Americans were exposed during the three years reviewed to an unhealthful level of air pollution.

Ozone declined nationwide, while particulate pollution increased on the East Coast but fell on the West Coast, led by California's efforts.

Ozone, which causes the haze in photochemical smog, and particulate pollution -- soot -- are emitted by airplanes, cars, industry, refineries, power plants and the trucks and boats that flow in and out of L.A.'s ports.

During a conference call with reporters Monday, lung association officials emphasized the connection between bad air and health complications, such as respiratory problems and diabetes, and the need for stricter legislation to continue improving air quality.

"The science is clear. Air pollution shortens life spans," said Dr. Tony Gerber, a pulmonary specialist and lung association volunteer. "Although some progress has been made, we need to continue to push for stronger standards and better measures."

But critics of the report's tenor accused the lung association of understating advances.

"This year's report, as was the case with past years, exaggerates pollution levels, exaggerates health risks and downplays the great improvements in air quality over the past few years and past few decades," said Joel Schwartz, a visiting fellow specializing in air pollution at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. "If you look at Los Angeles County, the improvement has been truly extraordinary."

In a separate report Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said a preliminary review of 2006 smog data, which the lung association did not include, showed continued improvement.

Since 1970, total emissions of key pollutants -- nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and lead -- declined by more than 50 percent.

During the same period, the gross domestic product more than doubled, vehicle travel increased 77percent and energy consumption was up almost 50 percent.

Weather, efforts help

In its 212-page report, the lung association attributed improvements to better weather, though 2004 and 2005 were among the hottest years on record, to stricter emission standards and to individuals and organizations switching to alternative forms of energy, such as hybrid and biodiesel vehicles and wind and solar energy.

"Every little bit helps," said Keith Flanagan, 40, of Oxnard, who bought a Toyota Prius after leaving his Camarillo job for one in Woodland Hills.

Kevin Bognot and Christian Liquigan previously didn't worry about the air they breathed. But recently the seniors at James Monroe High School in North Hills completed a photo project comparing oil energy with renewable energy.

Suddenly, they started to see a problem.

"If we choose not to do anything about it," Liquigan said, "then we have no one to blame but ourselves."

brad.greenberg(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3634

Health effects

Pollution jeopardizes the health of metropolitan L.A.'s 17.6million people. Here's a breakdown:

Asthma: 1,355,000

Chronic bronchitis: 510,000

Emphysema: 202,000

Cardiovascular disease: 3.6 million

Diabetes: 880,000

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 1, 2007
Words:682
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