Welcome to Friday Facts! Each week we’ll be taking a look at a specific chart from the Data & Resources section of our website. This week we’re focusing on the number of unhealthy air quality days each year as a result of ozone pollution in Riverside County.
While we have focused a great deal on health outcomes and socioeconomic factors contributing to health disparities in California, another root cause is our environment. It is much harder to live a healthy life when the air you breathe can cause you harm. For today’s Friday Facts, we’re looking at a particular form of pollution, ozone, in Riverside County.
As you can see from the table on our Data and Resources section, everyone living in Riverside County experiences roughly six weeks of unhealthy air quality days due to ozone pollution each summer. While there are some disparities (for example, African Americans average about a week’s worth of unhealthy days more than Whites), it is clear that this is an issue impacting all communities in the county. But what does “unhealthy air quality days” mean? Well, in this instance it is the number of days between May and October that have a level of ozone in the air that is higher than what is considered safe by federal standards.
Ozone is the result of, among other things, burning fossil fuels (gasoline, oil, and coal). According to the American Lung Association (ALA), one of the leading causes of ozone pollution is exhaust from motor vehicles, which releases gases into the atmosphere that turn into ozone smog when they react with sunlight (their site has a detailed description of this process). Riverside County is located in a region of the state with high volume traffic, and sits near the nation’s most ozone-polluted city, Los Angeles/Long Beach, as noted in the ALA’s wonderful State of the Air report.
The ALA also has a great rundown of the health impacts of breathing ozone pollution:
“Anyone who spends time outdoors where ozone pollution levels are high may be at risk. Five groups of people are especially vulnerable to the effects of breathing ozone:
- children and teens;
- anyone 65 and older;
- people who work or exercise outdoors;
- people with existing lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also known as COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis);
- people with cardiovascular disease.
In addition, newer evidence suggests that other groups—including women, people who suffer from obesity and people with low incomes—may also face higher risk from ozone. More research is needed to confirm these findings.”
A lot of work is being done to improve air quality, particularly in Southern California. If you are interested in some of the work going on in Riverside County and the surrounding area, our partners at ClimatePlan have a great resources section. If you’re doing work on air quality and reducing ozone pollution in Riverside and Southern California, please share any other resources in the comments.