L.A. Times: Southland's Weekend Smog Was Worst Since 1994

DIAMOND BAR (CNS) - Lung-damaging ozone pollution in Los Angeles reached its highest levels in a generation and set records in other parts of Southern California during the blistering Labor Day weekend heat wave, according to air quality readings.

Ozone pollution spiked to 185 parts per billion in downtown Los Angeles at midday Sunday, according to data gathered by the Diamond Bar-based South Coast Air Quality Management District. It was the highest hourly reading in Southern California since 2003 and the highest in downtown L.A. in 26 years, the Los Angeles Times reported today.

The eight-hour average ozone level in downtown L.A. was 118 ppb, “very unhealthy” on the Air Quality Index and far above the federal standard of 70 ppb. The last time ozone readings were that high in downtown L.A., by either measure, was in 1994, at a time when emissions were much higher and smog dramatically worse, The Times reported.

In Orange County, the eight-hour average ozone reading in Mission Viejo was 123 ppb, the highest on record since monitoring began at that location in 2000, according to The Times, and Compton's eight-hour reading was 115 ppb, its highest since monitoring began there in 2008.

Sunday's readings at the downtown L.A. air monitoring station, located on North Main Street in Chinatown, were so far above normal that they triggered a quality control check designed to prevent the release of erroneous data, air quality officials told The Times.

The downtown L.A. readings did not initially appear online and were provided by the South Coast air district in response to questions from The Times about the missing data.

The figures were not reported immediately because the quality control check requires additional, manual validation if pollution readings exceed historic highs, South Coast AQMD spokeswoman Nahal Mogharabi told the newspaper. If instruments are having problems, they “can show erroneously high levels and the quality control check prevents the automated release of high data that could be incorrect.”

But it was no glitch.

“The value for noon on Sunday has been reviewed and is preliminary valid at 185 ppb,” Mogharabi said.

Air quality officials said the high pollution readings were a result of intense heat combined with stagnant weather conditions and winds that were too weak to sweep away much pollution. Temperatures in Los Angeles County exceeded 120 degrees Sunday for the first time on record, thanks to a high- pressure system that also trapped dirty air close to the ground and allowed smog levels to build up.

Climate change is an underlying cause of the increase in smog, according to air quality experts cited by The Times. Scientific studies have found that rising temperatures are making smog harder to control by speeding up the photochemical reactions that generate ozone gas. And wildfires, which are growing more intense and destructive with the warming climate, only spew more smog-forming pollutants into the air.

Southern California has long suffered the nation's worst levels of ozone. The corrosive gas, which inflames the lungs and triggers asthma attacks and other health problems, is not emitted directly but forms when pollution from cars, trucks, factories and other sources bakes in the heat and sunlight. So it's no coincidence that the highest ozone readings usually happen when the weather is hottest, The Times reported.

Photo: Getty Images

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