California is home to some of the worst air pollution in the United States. Despite progress that has been made to improve air quality, 90% of Californians still live in areas affected by unhealthy air. And here in the South Coast Air Basin (the geographic region containing all of Orange County, and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino Counties), air pollution kills more people than in any other air basin in the country. In particular, air pollution in the form of ozone and particulate matter, which come almost exclusively from the use of fossil fuels, causes health problems at rates that are staggering:
And while the costs of living, or dying, with these ailments cannot truly be measured in economic terms, residents pay high financial costs for unhealthy air. In the South Coast Air Basin alone, the cost of air pollution is more than $1,250 per person per year. This translates to a total of nearly $22 billion in costs per year that could be avoided if federal ozone and PM2.5 standards were met.
Air pollution harms are particularly relevant when considering the social determinates of health. Research has shown that socioeconomic factors drive the likelihood that a person will be exposed to higher rates of air pollution and will worse health outcomes because of those exposures.
Despite the efforts to date to clean up the air, the South Coast Air Basin still has a great deal of work to do to meet the health-based standards and improve health. Work toward meeting these standards requires bold leadership from the health community.