Los Angeles in the Process of Saving Itself

Photo by steven.buss. Some rights reserved.

Despite everything that movies (Blade Runner, Terminator, They Live!, Repo Man, etc.) have taught us about the congested, polluted, dystopic Los Angeles of the then-distant future, the L.A. of today appears to be improving rather than going the other way. A new study released by the NOAA this week shows a whopping 98% decrease in vehicle-related air pollutants ( volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that are most often emitted from tailpipes) in the Los Angeles Basin since the 1960’s, an encouraging plummet despite the fact that L.A. drivers now burn three times the amount of gas and diesel. Carsten Warneke, co-author of the study, attributes this paradox to the fact that “cars are getting cleaner,” specifically regarding more efficient engines, catalytic converters, and the dawn of low emissions vehicles (LEVs). Between 2002 and 2010 alone (when, one might argue, car companies found a vested interest in pushing “greener, cleaner” as a selling point) VOC concentration in the region dropped by half, even as the number of cars on the road increased.

This is good news for Americans living in big cities hoping to turn pollution around, and great news for Los Angeles residents who have been able to see more and more of blue skies and the surrounding mountains thanks to cleaner air (especially since earlier this year it was reported in a study published by the Archives of Internal Medicine that L.A. residents are at an increased risk of stroke just from living there). Yet, this steep drop in VOCs does not correlate directly with a drop in Ozone pollution, which has decreased in the L.A. area since the 1960’s, but at a much gentler rate: levels in the area still do not meet the ozone standards set by the EPA, and in an American Lung Association report on air quality released earlier this year, nine out of the top ten highest ranked cities for ozone pollution fall within the boundaries of greater Los Angeles. According to Warneke, the number of days that had unhealthy ozone levels has dropped from 200 to 100 annually, as of this year, which is encouraging. As long as trends continue in these directions, we just may be able to put a more positive spin on the future in the City of Angels.

You can monitor current air quality conditions in Los Angeles through the AQMD here, updated hourly.

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