Why Clean Air Matters

Air Pollution Exposure is Associated with Premature Death

Attaining the California PM and ozone standards would annually prevent about 8,800 premature deaths, or 3.7% of all deaths. These premature deaths shorten lives by an average of 14 years. This is greater than the same number of deaths (4,200 – 7,400) linked to second-hand smoke in the year 2000. In comparison, motor vehicle crashes caused 3,200 deaths and homicides were responsible for 2,000 deaths

In Southern California, the South Coast Air Quality Management District is the agency responsible for attaining state and federal clean air standards in the South Coast Air Basin. Sadly, the South Coast Air Basin, which includes most of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and all of Orange County, does not meet the state and federal clean air standards for either ozone (also known as “smog”) or PM (also known as ” particulate matter”).

You should watch these two very short videos produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get more background about how  ozone and  PM are created. (If clicking on a link to an “executable file” makes you nervous and you want to be extra cautious, you can click here to go to the original website and look for the flash animation called “how ozone is formed” and “particulate pollution”.)

How much does all this matter for you?  A lot!  Look at the numbers below as provided by the California Air Resources Board.  Notice that these numbers are per year:negative health outcomes caused by ozone and PM exposureThese numbers are from a 2007 ARB fact sheet.   Since this fact sheet was created, the ARB has reviewed more data which show that these numbers underestimated the health impacts of ozone and PM.  In May 2008 the ARB wrote:

Based on reviews of the latest scientific literature, the Air Resources Board staff has concluded that particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM2.5) is much more toxic than previously estimated.  New research suggests that even small increases in exposure increase the potential for earlier deaths.

So, where does all this PM2.5 come from?  Some is natural, but mostly it comes from burning fossil fuels to produce energy—energy used to create electricity, to drive our cars, to warm our homes, to cook our food.  Or, as the ARB put it:

PM2.5 comes from combustion

Major contributors to PM2.5 include trucks, passenger cars, off-road equipment, electric power generation and industrial processes, residential wood burning; and forest and agricultural burning. All combustion processes generally produce PM2.5.

You see, this brings us full circle to where I started from (I love it when that happens).  Climate change is also caused by combustion.  By changing the way we make and use energy—how we power our cars, generate electricity, run our industrial processes, burn up trees (which has recently become the thing to do in some parts of the world to grow crops to create bio-fuels), we can both protect public health and save the planet from catastrophic climate collapse.

To me, that would be good.

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