Despite Lockdowns, L.A. Has Worst Year in Decades for Smog

Los Angeles smog (Nick Ut / Associated Press)
Nick Ut / Associated Press

Los Angeles has suffered its worst year in decades for smog and air quality, despite coronavirus lockdowns and stay-at-home orders that kept many residents off the roads.

Heat waves and wildfires, combined with other natural factors, turned the air a yellow hue that hearkened back to the bad old days of the 1990s, when the air in L.A. was practically visible.

The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday: “In all, this year there were 157 bad air days for ozone pollution — the invisible, lung-searing gas in smog — across the vast, coast-to-mountains basin spanning Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. That’s the most days above the federal health standard since 1997.”

Ironically, the Times noted, it is precisely because of the shutdowns that air pollution has become worse, thanks to “non-traffic emissions” like volatile organic compounds in disinfectant, and quirks in atmospheric chemistry:

It is also possible that the response to the pandemic altered the mix of pollutants that generate ozone, which is not emitted directly, but forms when tailpipe emissions and other pollutants react in the heat and sunlight.

Reducing ozone requires carefully balanced cuts in two main smog-forming pollutants — combustion gases called nitrogen oxides and chemical vapors and solvents called volatile organic compounds — and regulators have long known that cutting them in the wrong proportion could bring no ozone reductions at all or even increase smog levels.

The coronavirus shutdowns provided a rare experiment in what happens when cars stop emitting pollutants. While many environmentalists hailed the opportunity to restore nature, by midyear scientists were already noticing increases in air pollution in some cities, and only modest reductions in others.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is The Trumpian Virtues: The Lessons and Legacy of Donald Trump’s Presidency. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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