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SOUTHLAND ONCE AGAIN SMOG CAPITAL OF U.S.

Byline: Kerry Cavanaugh Staff Writer

Despite a relatively mild smog season so far - and continuing efforts to cut pollution - Los Angeles is likely to take back the title of smog capital of America from Houston and the San Joaquin Valley.

So far, the Southland has logged 76 smoggy days under the nation's new, more stringent ozone standards - nearly double Houston's 41 dirty days and more than the San Joaquin Valley's 61 smog days.

With a month left in the smog season, which runs from May through September, the air is still cleaner than 2003 when the region suffered the worst smog season in recent years. But it's not as clean as 2004 - the best showing since air pollution records began being kept.

The region's smog level has remained essentially flat for the past several years after two decades of pollution-reduction efforts that cut the number of smog days from nearly 200 to the current level. The growing number of cars and trucks on the area's clogged roads, increasing traffic at the ports and consumer products such as aerosol sprays and paints are among the top sources of pollution today.

``We're hoping we're going to see an improvement in the end. I'm pretty confident we won't see numbers like we saw in 2003,'' said Joe Cassmassi, senior meteorologist with the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Most of the bad-air violations occurred in Santa Clarita, San Bernardino and Riverside, where pollutants are blown inland and cook in the high heat.

And that's particularly troubling because researchers have found that children growing up in smoggy areas are more likely to develop asthma and to have underdeveloped lungs, a condition that can lead to increased risk of respiratory diseases and heart attacks later in life.

``With 76 days you're talking about two months of the year with bad air. Every day with bad air we're concerned about asthma attacks, premature deaths, school absences and lung damage to children,'' said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, assistant vice president of government relations for the American Lung Association of California.

In recent years, the South Coast region, Houston and the San Joaquin Valley have shared smog titles.

At the end of the 2004 smog season, Houston had the most days - 22 - exceeding the nation's old ozone limit, which measured ozone levels over an hour.

The old limit was designed to protect people from unhealthy spikes of ozone, the main ingredient in smog. It's caused when emissions from tailpipes, aerosol sprays and industrial sources react in sunlight to form ozone.

High levels of ozone irritate the lungs and can cause wheezing and difficulty breathing.

Meanwhile, last year the San Joaquin Valley had the most days - 82 - exceeding the nation's new ozone limit, which measures ozone levels over eight hours and is designed to protect against health problems associated with breathing low levels of ozone over a long period of time.

But metropolitan Los Angeles has had the most number of smoggy days in both categories this year.

With one more month to go, the region has had 27 days when ozone exceeded the old one-hour standard, and 76 days when ozone exceeded the new eight-hour standard.

``It's nice not to be known as the smog capital of the United States,'' said Kelly Keel with the Texas Commission on Air Quality.

Houston's improvement is probably due to a rainy, cooler summer and a number of new pollution controls on power plants and industrial facilities that took effect within the past year.

In the San Joaquin Valley, where dairy manure and motor vehicles are the main polluters, air quality officials hope they're seeing the beginning of a decline in ozone levels.

The vast agricultural valley has only had six days over the old one-hour standard and 61 days over the new eight-hour standard - both significantly less than previous years.

Supervising Meteorologist Evan Shipp said the San Joaquin Valley has had a record number of days over 100 degrees, but ozone levels have not risen as expected.

``That may be a sign that emissions reductions we've had may be helping,'' Shipp said.

Kerry Cavanaugh, (818) 713-3746

kerry.cavanaugh(at)dailynews.com

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OZONE AIR QUALITY

SOURCE: South Coast Air Quality Management District

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 2, 2005
Words:704
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