• Study
  • Aug 22nd 2012 at 11:55AM
  • 20
If you visited or lived in the Los Angeles area many years ago, you why it was called, unofficially, the City of Smog. In the early 1970s, I attended the LA Zoo with my third grade classmates on one of those given days when the South Coast Air Quality Management District likely issued a smog warning. The sky was gray, thick, and hazy. My eyes were red, my throat was thick and sore and it hurt to breathe deeply. Even though there are more cars on the streets and freeways of LA now than 40 years ago, I haven't experienced that kind of aerial assault lately.

Treehugger's Brian Merchant, has had similar experiences:

My earliest memories of L.A. are colored with a grey, dystopian palette-I remember staring out at a hazed-over full moon, actually impressed by the way the smog smeared the city lights and hung thick in the air even at night. It was surreal and noirish and pretty repulsive. And that was just over ten years ago.

Like me, Merchant has been impressed to witness a typical day in LA with much lighter smog levels. In fact, the LA basin has seen vehicle-related air pollutants decrease by about 98 percent since the 1960s, even as locals are burning three times as much gasoline and diesel fuel since my day at the LA Zoo. That number comes from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report that tracks the trend, including findings on the air pollutants called volatile organic compounds that dropped by half between 2002 and 2010.

Cars are much cleaner and efficient than they used to be, but there are a lot more of them, which leads to three times as much fuel consumption as in the 1960s, the report says. Local residents and visitors do get stuck in traffic a lot, but the air is cleaner because technology has made breakthrough advancements. Some of those changes include requirements for catalytic converters, use of reformulated fuels less prone to evaporate and the improved engine efficiency of new vehicles.

All this does offer Angelenos, and others who live in congested mega-cities, a little bit of hope, even though smog is still present. According to the NOAA article, "People who lived in the city in the 1960s often couldn't see nearby mountains through the smog; today, they often can."


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 20 Comments
      Scambuster
      • 2 Years Ago
      Give some credit to solar power, wind generators, cleaner burning furnace that generate electrity, using more methane rather than oil burning generators. On the automobile side, S Calif has more hybrids and electrics, CNG buses and vans than 20 years ago.
      Ryan
      • 2 Years Ago
      I'm not sure where my first message went to, but I went out there in 2011 and saw the mountains. I never knew that there were mountains, which is kind of strange when all of a sudden the mountains are there.
        Ryan
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ryan
        I wonder how much the pollution has been decreased for stuff like lead, sulfur, and mercury with the lead-free gas and new diesel fuel regulations. They are doing a good job, but there is still some more work to be done.
      Rick
      • 2 Years Ago
      Must be all those nasty gasoline cars you have & cheap low quality almost bunker oil low quality diesel fuels you use, we use to have smogs in London with high sulphur coal, it got banned along with high sulphur cheap n nasty diesel fuels ages ago. London is full of mainly diesel cars, diesel buses, diesel taxi's today that all burn diesel with a very very low sulphur content, we have no smogs at all today. Old Vans & trucks have to pay $300 a day to drive in London in London's massive Low Emission Zone, it keeps the smog producers out.
        ronwagn
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rick
        You also have no mountains, and the pollution goes to Europe and beyond. CNG and LNG are a better fuel.
          Nick
          • 2 Years Ago
          @ronwagn
          ronwagn Ask anyone in a 100 mile radius of a natural gas FRACKING site, how safe it is.....
        axiomatik
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rick
        Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel has been mandated in the US since 2007 or so. The US specification for diesel is very similar to Europe's.
        PR
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rick
        The trade winds blowing nearly unimpeded over all of southern England also have a lot to do with London's smog.
          Rick
          • 2 Years Ago
          @PR
          Funny how 8,000 died in 1953 London pea soup smogs, when there were no diesel cars here. Just high sulphur coal, unimpeded winds done made no difference what so ever bugger all during 1950's smogs. What stopped the London smogs we don't get today is we stopped using dirty fuels, the cheap n nasty dirty diesel you use Stateside has a much higher sulphur content to what we use in Europe, its been banned here. Trade winds that still blow today don't make make any difference what so ever 8 million Londoners who mainly drive clean diesel cars, diesel trucks and use diesel buses.
      Rick
      • 2 Years Ago
      Its about time Obama bumped up the price of diesel & put a tax on diesel trucks, forced you all to use low cost LPG Autogas in trucks and use more of your best home grown resource, which would hep cut the massive deficit in foreign oil you have, would help stop the US debt clock thats about to hit 16 trillion $$$ very soooon.
      r.gk
      • 2 Years Ago
      And they are leaking radiation in the water below. Their waste is for your grandchildren to worry about. How do you want to present the waste to your descendants, Happy Birthday or Merry Christmas have some waste from cheap power I bought during my lifetime to deal with.
      Mike G
      • 2 Years Ago
      The air in LA is much cleaner today. I remember in 1983 not being able to see a high rise in Century City about a mile from my house on a stage 3 smog day. Now when I go out there I can usually see the mountains that are about 40 miles away. The only way to see those in the 1980s was to wait until right after a rainstorm in winter.,,,and then they were only visible for a day or two.
      Rotation
      • 2 Years Ago
      "often can" As much as it is better than it used to be, any person who craps on CARB should go to LA sometime. If you've never been there before, chances are you will be shocked how visible the smog is. And without CARB the smog would be a lot worse. Californians pay the price for selecting cars as the primary mode of transport for 3 of the 10 largest cities in the US.
        PR
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Rotation
        A moment of silence to thank all those old hippie greenies that came before me and fought hard to win the clean(er) air that we all enjoy today. We all benefit from their hard work in the face of a chorus of corporate nay-sayers. ... Ok, so moment's of silence don't work so well on the internet... *grin*
      Ele Truk
      • 2 Years Ago
      Seattle is much the same way, but because of different geography and weather, it's not quite as apparent. However even after a couple of nice days the air is noticably browner. Since most of our power is Hydro and Nuclear, the vast majority of our air pollution is from cars & trucks 68% in 2006: http://www.pscleanair.org/images/chart_sources.gif Seattle also has greatly benefitted from CARB and EPA regulations.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      Yeah, you can hunt down old pictures of LA from the late 60's before they started really cracking down on emissions and it looks like modern day Beijing. But they had only 6 million people in the LA county back then! Beijing has 20 million people! The population of LA county has grown about 40% but the smog factor has reduced a lot per capita, to the point where it's bearable. This really is a success story for California. I wish other parts of the United States would take note. It can get pretty bad out here in Salt Lake City.
      Nick
      • 2 Years Ago
      Keep in mind people used to burn trash in their backyard back then. CA still has a lot of work do to to clean up..........hopefully hybrids and EVs will make it a nicer place.
      Ziv
      • 2 Years Ago
      I moved to Palm Desert in 1989, and there was a very common joke about people in LA calling 911 and reporting some sort of odd presence to the west, and it turned out to be the mountains that they had never been able to see for decades due to the smog. Much like Ryan mentioned, there was simply no way to see the mountains due to the smog.
      ronwagn
      • 2 Years Ago
      Think how much cleaner the air would be if more vehicles used natural gas. http://ronwagnersrants.blogspot.com Natural gas is the future of energy. It is replacing dirty, dangerous, expensive coal and nuclear plants. It is producing the electricity for electric cars. It will directly fuel cars,pickup trucks, vans, buses, long haul trucks, dump trucks, locomotives, aircraft, ships etc. It will keep us out of more useless wars, where we shed our blood and money. It reduces CO2 emissions and other pollutants. Here are over 800 recent links for you: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NbaKYme3bqOw0b6KMxXSjOLHLNeflalPy9gIAiTYFMQ/edit
        Nick
        • 2 Years Ago
        @ronwagn
        Dirty nuclear plants? The only thing coming out of its smokestacks are water vapor. Nuclear is by far the cleanest (fossil) form of energy.
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