The Air in Southern California Just Got a Whole Lot Cleaner

Risk from airborne carcinogens has declined by more than 50 percent on average since 2005.
(Photo: Mitch Diamond/Getty Images)
Oct 5, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Southern Californians can breathe a little easier: Cancer risk from airborne pollutants has been cut by more than half since 2005, according to the region’s air-quality control agency.

A study released by the South Coast Air Quality Management District on Oct. 2 measured the levels of cancer-causing air contaminants across Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. It found that exposure to 37 toxic pollutants—including diesel soot and arsenic—could cause 418 cancer cases per 1 million people over seven decades. That’s down from 1,194 cases per 1 million in 2005. (The last review reported a 17 percent drop between 1999 and 2005.)

“The air is cleaner in California because we have really clamped down hard on motor vehicle emissions and other transportation-related emissions,” John Balmes, a California Air Resources Board member, told The Los Angeles Times.

Some areas fared better than others. Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, where smog-spewing trucks and ships are concentrated, have the highest cancer risk, with 1,050 cases per 1 million. Central Los Angeles and places near freeways had high risks as well. Southern Orange County, southwest Riverside County, and the Coachella Valley had the lowest risk.

Despite the gains, compared with the rest of the nation Southern California is still among the worst places to breathe. Air-quality and public-health advocates say state standards also need to be revised, considering recent findings that certain air pollutants resulted in higher cancer risks.

“We shouldn’t plant a victory flag yet,” Adrian Martinez, an attorney at nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, told the Times. “These levels are still unsafe to breathe in many parts of the Los Angeles region. And there are still inequities, primarily in low-income communities of color that are breathing the most polluted air.”