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ALA Says Most Californians Breathing Bad Air -- Not Just L.A.

Hold your breath: Most of us live in cities that have unhealthy air. The American Lung Association says California has some of the most polluted counties in the nation. KPBS reporter Ed Joyce has deta

ALA Says Most Californians Breathing Bad Air -- Not Just L.A.

Hold your breath: Most of us live in cities that have unhealthy air. The American Lung Association says California has some of the most polluted counties in the nation. KPBS reporter Ed Joyce has details.

Our neighbor to the north -- Los Angeles -- still has the most unhealthy air in America. But our air isn't that much cleaner. The American Lung Association says 26 counties in California failed its clean air test. San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties all received failing grades for ozone pollution levels.

Ozone is produced when heat and sunlight come into contact with pollutants from power plants, cars, and other sources. Doctor Tony Gerber works with the lung association.

Gerber : Simply stated, the statewide level of particle and ozone pollution in California remains dangerously high. This means that too many Californians continue to breathe unhealthy air.

The lung association says ozone can contribute to asthma attacks, heart disease, and lung cancer. The group says senior citizens, children, and people with asthma are the most sensitive to the unhealthy air. Carmina Ortiz lives in Riverside County. The bad air makes it tough on her three children.

Ortiz : You do feel as a parent, extremely frustrated to know that this is something that we're all creating. I remember 20 years ago I didn't know children with asthma and now I have three of them and all three of them have asthma.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to change the “safe standard” for ozone levels later this year. The lung association's Janice Nolen says the old standard is not protecting us.

Nolen : The ozone standard is no longer considered the safe level, that the evidence is that ozone is much, much riskier at the lower levels. And in fact, recent evidence indicates that ozone may actually shorten life.

The news wasn't all bad. The group says overall the state’s air is cleaner. Part of the credit goes to California's tougher auto emissions standards. Los Angeles also had fewer smoggy days than in past years. The bad air list is based on 2003 through 2005 figures.

Ed Joyce, KPBS News.