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A Global Concern

Simply put, air quality is the state of the air you breathe, and clean air is essential to survival. Air is one of our most valuable natural resources. It may also be the most challenging resource to protect from undue harm. Unlike land or water resources, which may be guarded by borders and fences, air is shared the world over. Therefore, it is imperative that everyone takes responsibility and care in minimizing harmful air pollutants.

Air pollution specifically refers to anthropogenic activities (human activities), which degrade air quality to the detriment of humans and other life on the planet. Pollution can occur from a direct (or primary) source, such as spraying a pesticide, driving a car or even burning wood in a fireplace. Air pollution can also be caused indirectly, for example through the interaction of various gases, which cause secondary pollutants like ground-level ozone.

Air polluters are also categorized by source. Stationary sources include non-mobile devices and facilities, such as buildings, wood stoves, incinerators, power plants and industrial smokestacks. Mobile sources consist of various forms of transportation and other movable devices, including cars, trucks, ships, trains, airplanes and construction equipment.

Air pollution affects the quality of air we breathe and also affects all life on the planet through climate change and the gradual depletion of atmospheric ozone layer. Global warming refers to the gradual increase in planetary temperature caused by an abnormal increase in greenhouse gases (GHGs) caused by human activities. The California Human Health and Safety Code identifies greenhouse gases as Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. These gases are emitted by a number of human activities, most commonly by the burning of fossil-fuels for energy production and transportation. In addition, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) emitted from refrigeration and fire suppression systems have also been linked to climate change. Together, these emissions add to the naturally occurring GHGs, such as emissions from volcanoes and naturally occurring forest fires, producing an accelerated rise in climate change. The California Air Resource Board (CARB), along with many recognized experts, largely attribute a 1° Fahrenheit change in average U.S. temperature during the 20th century to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the overwhelmingly dominant greenhouse gas created by humans; it accounts for 82% of 2006 GHG emissions from the United States. For this reason, CO2 is often used as a barometer for gauging the trends and harmful impacts of global warming. For instance, the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) Oak Ridge National Laboratory stated:

"United States continues to be the largest single national source of fossil fuel-related CO2 emissions with emissions of 1,577 million metric tons of carbon in 2005

…emit(ing) almost 90 billion metric tons of carbon since 1800

…double(ing) since the early 1960s

…(producing) per capita values in excess of 5.3 metric tons of carbon per person are highest of the industrialized world."

The United States is not solely to blame for the current trends in climate change. Unchecked industrialization is the underlying tenet behind air pollution. Most of the global emissions can be traced to the world’s industrial leaders, past and present. Both, China and India, for example, are showing dramatic escalations in GHG levels. However, the U.S. remains the undisputed leader in air pollution. For perspective, CDIAC estimates, since 1751, global GHG emissions have totaled roughly 321 billion tons of carbon (with 28% coming from the U.S., since 1800). Further, estimates note that half of the global emissions occurred since the mid-1970s. The United States is and will continue to be a heavy load on global air quality. Every citizen has a stake and obligation to change these trends for the better.

Energy Information Administration__________________

*HFCs = Hydroflourocarbons, PFCs = Perflourocarbons,
SF6 = Sulfur Hexaflouride. Energy Information Administration

Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center. Originally produced by J.E.
Hansen, R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

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Criteria Pollutants

Empowered by the federal Clean Air Act (1970, 1977, 1990) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) protects outdoor air quality for people, wildlife and the greater environment. It identifies six criteria pollutants as indicators of outdoor air quality and established 24-hour, maximum concentrations, called National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAICS), to assist in the monitoring and controlling of emissions. These pollutants include carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx), lead (Pb), Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5) and ozone (O3).

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and poisonous by-product of incomplete combustion, which reduces the delivery of oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues, linking it to numerous health concerns. CO pollution tends to be localized, unlike Ozone, which generally is a regional concern. However, carbon monoxide does significantly impact much of the Southern California region, because 77% of national emissions are linked to mobile sources.

Principally resulting from stationary sources, sulfur dioxide is a primary contributor to acid deposition, more commonly known as acid rain. This secondary effect of air pollution is a leading cause for poisoned crops and plant life and can even degrade buildings.

Nitrogen oxide is largely produced by transportation and electric utilities and may affect both terrestrial and marine life. Increased levels often lead to the formation of ground-level ozone and acid rain.

Ozone is a photochemical oxidant, which naturally occurs in the upper atmosphere. High around the globe, it benefits life by shielding the earth from harmful solar radiation. However, ground-level ozone (otherwise known as smog) can be a major health risk. It forms through complex solar-chemical reactions between sunlight, NOx and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as hydrocarbon fumes from gasoline and oil based paints and toxic fumes from solvents. It is always best to avoid going outside during hotter weather, because sunlight helps increase the level of smog-ozone. Additionally, solar heat pushes the smog layer closer to the ground, where people breathe. The inland region suffers the most from ozone. Ocean breezes push smog inland toward the hills, thus retaining an unhealthy environment for residents. Unless ground-level ozone blows away or cools and rises, it poisons the air until it is flushed from the sky by rain, contributing to acid rain. For these reasons, the months of May through October are referred to as ozone season. To accurately gauge the associated risks and sources, Ozone concentration is measured in both, 1-hour and 8-hour levels.

Particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) has also gained concern for its effects on people and animals. Essentially, PM is composed of tiny particles in the air, such as dust, dirt, smoke, soot and liquid particles that are produced by a number of sources, including: cars, diesel vehicles, industrial facilities, burning wood and through windblown dust. PM accumulation in the lungs has been linked to a number of respiratory health problems.

In 2002, the World Health Organization attributed 41,200 U.S. deaths to PM10 outdoor air pollution. PM2.5, particles 2.5 micrometers and smaller, is especially dangerous, as it can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs and effect health for many years. Goods movement in the region, notably ships, trains and trucks, and growing incidents of fire have precipitated dangerous levels of PM, though the long lasting health effects are yet to be realized.

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Breathe Easy in Orange

Wouldn’t it be nice to breathe easy in Orange? Unfortunately, the City and region as a whole have a lot of room for improvement. A new study from Purdue University (2008) ranked Orange County 47th in the nation in carbon dioxide emissions among the 3,141 counties it studied from 2002. Furthermore, concern for smog-ozone and particulate matter levels is mounting for the Los Angeles basin due to the region’s growing population, reliance on automobiles and dominance in U.S. international trade. Much of Southern California, including the City of Orange, has the highest levels of PM2.5, PM10 and ozone air pollution in the country.

It follows that air pollution would be high, since the region has the 2nd largest population in the country (behind New York) and the fastest growing population center. In fact, the City of Orange grew 3.6% between 2000 and 2007. The US Census ranked the City as the 136th fastest growing incorporated area in the nation. To survive and prosper in spite of the region’s growth, the cities and their citizens will need to embrace change by adopting new habits, technologies and lifestyles.

The California Clean Air Act (CCAA, 1988) provides the basis for air quality planning and regulations within the state, requiring nonattainment areas to achieve and maintain the state ambient air quality standards by the earliest practicable date and empowering local air districts to develop plans for attaining the state pollutant standards. The clean air standards are achieved through the concerted efforts of the state Air Resources Board (ARB or CARB), the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), the 35 local air districts, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) whom work to improve and protect the quality of California’s air.

The California Clean Air Act (CCAA, 1988) provides the basis for air quality planning and regulations within the state, requiring nonattainment areas to achieve and maintain the state ambient air quality standards by the earliest practicable date and empowering local air districts to develop plans for attaining the state pollutant standards.

_____________California Air Resources Board

The clean air standards are achieved through the concerted efforts of the state Air Resources Board (ARB or CARB), the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR), the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), the 35 local air districts, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) whom work to improve and protect the quality of California’s air.

The City of Orange lies within the South Coast Air Basin, which includes Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. It is California’s largest metropolitan region, comprising some 6,480 square miles. In 2006, 43% of the State’s population resided in the South Coast, and sources within the basin were responsible for 29 percent of the State’s total criteria pollutant emissions. Mobile sources (e.g.: autos, train, airplanes, ships) and consumer products (e.g.: household cleaners, lawn mowers, wood-burning fireplaces) contributed approximately 80% of the region’s air pollution.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), the regional authority in charge of the air basin, measures air quality in 30 Southland locations. Anaheim Hills is the closest air quality station to Orange. If you are considering any strenuous, outdoor activity or just interested in up-to-date air quality reports, please check with the South Coast Air Quality Management District or U.S. EPA.

Over the past couple decades, government regulations and technological advancements have improved the quality of your air. In fact, California clean air standards are often more stringent than national standards. This progressive stance has led to a number of successes. With the exception of particulate matter (which has remained relatively constant), monitoring has shown that all criteria pollutants have been reduced.

*Area wide sources include solvent evaporation and miscellaneous processes which are not
easily attributable to one source or type of sources. Other Mobile sources include airplanes,
ships, trains, tractors and other miscellaneous equipment. California Air Resources Board.

The definition of air pollution has also been expanded over the years. Besides criteria pollutants, the California’s ARB and its air districts monitor and enforce emissions for a variety of toxic air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds and airborne metals. Air districts evaluate VOCs by their level of photochemical reactivity (or sensitivity/reaction to sunlight), specifically reactive organic gases (ROG) and total organic gases (TOG), which include ROGs and non-reactive gases such as methane. ROG pollutants are believed to be precursors to the formation of smog-ozone, so they have gained great scientific interest in the last decade.

California Air Resources Board

To date, the California Health and Safety Code identifies nearly 200 compounds as Toxic Air Contaminants (TAC). Most are present in trace amounts in the ambient (outdoor) air and have no known safe levels, thus no acceptable standards have been set either by the State or federal government. The Code defines TACs as "an air pollutant which may cause or contribute to an increase in mortality or in serious illness, or which may pose a present or potential hazard to human health." For your protection, CARB has monitored and reported the ten TACs, which pose the greatest threat to human health. The following data illustrates both, the South Coast Air Basin and Orange County, contributions to these ten carcinogen emissions and is based primarily upon ambient air quality data.

California Air Resources Board

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We're at Risk!

Air pollution is non-discriminate. In its many forms, it can threaten the survival of natural vegetation and many agricultural crops, increases droughts and pollutes water resources, increases insect infestations, supports the extinction of many animal and marine species, and leads to countless other environmental harms. Airborne pollution can also damage inanimate buildings, monuments and statues, thus threatening many of society’s historical elements and symbols. Most importantly, air pollution can affect people and animals during and after exposure. It has been linked to thousands of illnesses and results in lost production from work and schools. Depending on the type and level of pollution, it can cause or contribute to:

  • Watery eyes,
  • Soar throat,
  • Wheezing,
  • Coughing,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Asthma,
  • Chest pains,
  • Fatigue,
  • Impair vision,
  • Respiratory disease,
  • Lung damage,
  • Impaired vision,
  • Degraded manual dexterity,
  • Reduced learning ability,
  • Brain and nerve damage,
  • Cancer,
  • Birth defects, and even
  • Premature death.

Scientific discoveries continue to reinforce concern for the effects of air pollution. For instance, the EPA claims 30 million U.S. adults and children have been diagnosed with asthma. Since 2000, asthma has effected an additional 1.4% of the population (up from 11.5% to 12.9%). In addition, an English study from the University of Birmingham, conducted between 1996 and 2004, found a "strong correlation" between air pollution and pneumonia deaths in 352 areas. The 35 areas with the highest incidents of pneumonia also had higher rates of rheumatic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and some forms of cancer. As further evidence, Figure AQ.7 shows the excess cancer risks associated with the aforementioned ten most hazardous TACs. Moreover, in August 2008, a previously unrecognized group of pollutants, coined Persistent Free Radicals (PFRs), were identified by a group of scientists from the Louisiana State University of Baton Rouge. They reported that inhaling PFRs exposes the average person to as much as 300 times the pollutant effect of one cigarette. However, more research is required before the true impacts of the discovery can be ascertained.

Finally, air pollutants can be especially dangerous for the elderly, young and infirmed. A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that death rates in 48 U.S. cities tended to rise on days when ozone pollution had increased. Of the 2.7 million deaths studied, age was the strongest risk factor, with deaths among adults over the age of 65 nearly doubling the overall rate. The study also revealed older women to have greater susceptibility than older men.

Data for Diesel PM reflects 2000,
Carbon Tetrachloride reflects 2003, all others reflect 2006 data.
California Air Resources Board.

In short, air pollution isn’t good. Your health is in your hands. Read-on to learn how you can improve the air you breathe.

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Are You Auto Aware?

The Air Quality Management District reports, "1.7 billion tons of carbon (6.22 billion tons of CO2*) is produced annually to fuel all U.S. vehicles" (2007). In fact, almost 60% of California’s 2006 greenhouse gas emissions came from the transportation sector. More than 75% of our region’s ozone-forming air pollution (CO, NOx and ROG) comes from mobile sources, with on-road traffic comprising the greatest share. For these reasons and more, reducing your driving habits is the single greatest thing you could do to stop the current trend of climate change.

California Air Resources Board

Unfortunately, in spite of air pollution and increases in the cost of fuel, people in California and the South Coast Air Basin are driving more. From 1980 to 2005, the average daily number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the South Coast grew by 144%, while population had only grown by 51%. Furthermore, citizens of Orange County appear to have performed worse, driving 172% more per day in the same period, while the County’s population grew by 57%.

Many people may be unaware of their contribution to air pollution and the impacts on their community. Before you drive, consider these two maps. Map A, the Traditional View, represents CO2 emissions that result from vehicles within a half-mile square of use. As you may note, higher emissions occur in urban centers. Map B, the Emerging View, indicates the same emissions data divided by the number of households within a given area. It reflects the higher emissions per household in non-urban centers.

The maps prove that personal driving habits do make a difference on Orange’s air quality, and they do impact GHG emissions, which contribute to climate change. If you’re curious how much pollution you contribute, calculate your auto emissions with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Impact Score or try the Travelmatters Emissions Calculator (use Los Angeles as your proximate city).

The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) Travelmatters.org Project
* Carbon (C) to carbon dioxide (CO2) conversion = multiply by 44/12 (= 3.67).

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Indoor Air Hazards

Indoor air quality is central to human health due to the abundance of time most people spend indoors. However, the lack of ventilation in your house or place of work may be harboring unhealthy indoor air hazards. Your health and that of those around you may be affected by a number of household air pollutants. A study released by W.J. Fisk and A.H. Rosenfeld in 1997 reported that the United States lost $35 billion in lost work productivity plus an additional $29 billion in healthcare expenses in 1995 due to upper respiratory diseases. The study estimates 10-30% could be reduced by improved indoor air quality. Protect the air you breathe by avoiding the following:

  • Moisture and biologicals – Biological sources such as molds, mildews and dust mites are one of the greatest threats to indoor air quality. Excessive humidity levels resulting from poorly maintained air conditioners, inadequate ventilation and animal dander commonly lead to human health risks.
  • Indoor products – Paints, solvents, air fresheners, fabric additives and static sheets, dry cleaned clothing and aerosols and hobby supplies, adhesives and other indoor products emit volatile organic compounds. Many of these products can be identified by their flammability. Modern technology offers a host of alternative, green products to reduce your exposure to these toxins. When possible, the City encourages their use. For your convenience, the air district has compiled a list of suppliers of low-VOC cleaning materials and equipment. This is a great source for responsible corporations and curious homeowners searching for green, water-based products.
  • Indoor devices – Many household devices such as space heaters, gas stoves, ovens, furnaces and water heaters can produce harmful indoor emissions. Proper ventilation, sealing and maintenance ensure their safe use.
  • Particulate matter – Fireplaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters, un-vented gas space-heaters, tobacco smoke, dust and pollen all produce unhealthy levels of particulates indoors. If you are exposed to any form of this air hazard, the City recommends proper ventilation to limit unnecessary harm.
  • Formaldehyde – This toxic gas is a common emission of many building materials, including carpeting and plywood as well as many household items such as durable press drapes, cabinets and furniture (glues). Whenever possible, avoid purchasing furniture or products with excessive chemical odors or fumes that may burn your eyes.
  • Asbestos – Though banned in the late 1970s, asbestos was once quite popular. If your home or building is older than 20 years, it may have asbestos in old pipe insulation, fireproofing, acoustic material, or floor tiles. Over exposure to this pollutant can often lead to lung cancer. It is often better to leave old materials, like asbestos insulation and lead paint in place. Use caution if you are planning to remodel or replace old materials. Your local hardware store can help you to understand any risks and provide you with masks and other safety materials.
  • Lead – Many of Orange’s historic homes may also contain lead paint. Lead paint is not a problem when attached to the wall. However, concern arises when the paint is burned, removed or naturally degenerates to dust. It can also pose health risks if consumed orally (by children or pets). If you remove old paint, please trap the active room from the rest of the house and wear a mask for safety.

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