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San Diego Smog Among The Nation's Worst

 April 25, 2019 at 10:51 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Once again, San Diego has been found to have some of the most polluted air in the nation. Our number of unhealthy air days is on the rise, the most distressing news centers on ozone pollution, which is getting worse as our climate warms. As part of our coverage from the KPBS climate change desk, we're examining the annual air report, newly released from the American Lung Association joining me as Deborah Kelley, director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in California. Deborah, welcome. Thank you, mark. We'll start with the key findings. How bad is our air and the San Diego region? Speaker 2: 00:35 So unfortunately, once again, we've made the list of the top 10 cities with the worst air quality in the United States and that's mainly because of our ozone. And so we are actually number six on that list. The report really is a combination of good news and bad news for San Diego guns. There's good news about our particulate matter. We got a B grade this year, which is our best grade ever. But it's really bad news for ozone levels because over the past five years our ozone has increased by 42% Speaker 1: 01:08 and explain that, what are the main Crawford as we say? Is Ozone a? What is it? Why is it so harmful? Speaker 2: 01:13 Ozone is dangerous because it's a toxic chemical that can burn our lungs. In fact, the analogy that we use at the lung association is that ozone damages the lungs in our bodies in a very similar way to sunshine damaging our skin. So long term exposures even to relatively low levels of ozone have a cumulative impact and they can, you know, that exposure can permanently damage the lungs and, and create other, you know, issues with the heart as well. Because of this, the lung association has very strict health based standards on, you know, what we consider the safe level of exposure to ozone. People probably also need to understand that ozone is kind of a, a soup that's cooked. And so one big ingredient is what we call volatile organic compounds. And those are things that you, you know, if you're barbecuing, you smell that and you use lighter fluid. Speaker 2: 02:11 Certainly anytime any of us put gas in our cars, volatile organic compounds are being released in the atmosphere. Then when we get into our cars start to drive, we have another substance called Knox, which comes out of our tailpipes. And so what happens is these, these two compounds getting get into our air and they are literally cooked by hour, the heat in our atmosphere. And so the higher the heat, the worst, the heat, the worst the ozone becomes. And the more health issues that we see, our air quality of course becomes worse. And unfortunately there is, uh, a cycle which actually worsens climate change. And so, you know, when we see this huge increase in ozone levels in San Diego, we have to ask why. Speaker 1: 03:03 And that goes to the, uh, the point I made at the outset, which is climate change is making our air quality worse. And of course we had a number of a, a very warm days last year when the study period was, it was looking at, Speaker 2: 03:15 yeah, that's, that's correct. So the way the, the report works without getting too technical as we take a rolling three year average of all these levels so that a spike in one year doesn't overlay impact the overall grade. But this past reporting period has included three of the hottest summers in California. And so that's really, that's why we're seeing so much ozone. The, the hotter it is, the more rows and we see the worst our air gets. Speaker 1: 03:42 So we're doing a little bit better as you noted with short term particle pollution. But explain that finding and what that actually is. Speaker 2: 03:50 Particle pollution is actually extremely dangerous, can be very deadly. These all defined part of calls get into the lungs. Um, they can cause lung cancer. They're small enough to get into the bloodstream. If you have heart disease or diabetes, you are especially vulnerable to having a heart attack and a Polish an episode because these particles are setting up inflammation in your bloodstream and your heart. And they can even cause strokes. Another thing that people don't really understand is that these particles can affect the brain. And so recent studies have shown that women who are and polluted air tend to have a higher risk of having autistic children. And people who live near freeways have a higher risk of Alzheimer's and said these brain effects are kind of new science, but they should be very concerning to everyone. Speaker 1: 04:42 So the number of deaths is on the rise as the, uh, as the report notes and California has some of the nation's strictest air pollution laws. Does this report show that, uh, they just aren't working? Speaker 2: 04:53 No, I would say it's the opposite. When you look at the overall trends, you can see huge declines in both ozone and particle pollution here in San Diego and up and down California. We wouldn't have had those huge declines without our strict laws here in California. But unfortunately, you know, the impacts of climate change are starting to overwhelm the impact of our laws. I mean, we have cleaner air, we're driving cleaner cars, we have more access to zero emission vehicles. But you know, we're doing a lot, but these climate change impacts are a little bit of a tidal wave and it's hard to fight back. Speaker 1: 05:31 And what are some of the important steps we can take to improve our air quality as a, as it goes down to the future? I mean, it's all comes down to cutting fossil fuel emissions, does it not? Speaker 2: 05:40 Yeah, it really does. And so, you know, the biggest, the biggest culprit is really our transportation sector. And that means the cars we drive, the trucks, the buses, we take um, planes, boats and so forth. Together they account for 90% of our air quality issues. They also account for about 50% of our greenhouse gas emissions. So as individuals, if we can drive less, if we can start switching to zero emission vehicles and you know, if we can use less energy in our homes, all of that is, is going to help a lot. But we also have to work with our elected officials and our society in general to ensure that California's efforts are not diluted by the federal government. There is so much happening at the federal level to undercut what we have done to protect Californians that the American Lung Association, we spend most of our time at the federal level just defending what we already have. Speaker 1: 06:37 Are you hopeful now that the election season is honest that we might have a meaningful debate finally on climate change and on pollution and emissions from fossil fuels in this upcoming election here? Speaker 2: 06:50 I would like to think so. One of the things that we know is that San Diego ones do accept that climate change is real and they largely, except that it's manmade. And that's partly because here in California, here in San Diego, we've experienced the effects of climate change. I live in Scripps Ranch. I've been evacuated twice from my home on the fact that we haven't had a huge wildfire in San Diego is a matter of luck and at that could change at any season. And so we're lucky that we have an educated populace here, but we are, you know, we are fighting the, uh, climate change denial industry that operates in very similar way to the way the tobacco industry denied everything. In fact, if you trace the reds, you can actually see there's some of the same people in some of the same organizations are involved. And so unfortunately, the big fossil fuel players are actively trying to undercut the climate change argument or trying to question the science. And they're doing all of that really to protect their profits. And we are doing what we're doing to protect people. Speaker 1: 07:58 Well, we'll see how this all shapes up as the debate start in June. I've been speaking with Deborah Kelley of the American Lung Association. Thanks, Debra. Speaker 2: 08:05 Thank you, mark. It's been a pleasure. Speaker 3: 08:11 Yeah.

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A new American Lung Association report finds San Diego is the sixth smoggiest city in the country and the number of unhealthy ozone days is going up.