We’ve Come a Long Way in the Fight Against Air Pollution

On July 26, 1943, in the midst of World War II, downtown Los Angeles was gripped by a pall of smoke and fumes, in the middle of a heat wave. This “gas attack” afflicted workers and residents with eye-stinging, raw throat sensations and cut visibility to three blocks. People feared enemy forces had launched a chemical attack. As it turned out, the region was hit not by a foreign enemy, but by air pollution emanating from their local factories, vehicles and even residents’ own backyards.

While the 1943 incident was not the first time LA suffered from extreme smog – it was a turning point. As a result of this, local politicians created a commission to study the issue, then established an air pollution control office for the county. By the 1950s, air pollution control districts were formed in LA, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, and these four agencies merged in 1977 to form a regional clean air agency for the greater Los Angeles area: The South Coast AQMD.

We are still working to better understand the impacts that air pollution has on human health, but, 75 years later, significant progress has been made in the South Coast Region. Thanks to decades of hard work, the South Coast Air Basin has met federal standards set for carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and PM10. Meeting federal ozone and PM2.5 standards remains a key challenge, largely due to the federal sources such as heavy-duty trucks, ships, planes and off-road equipment. Emission reduction strategies outlined in our draft 2022 Air Quality Management Plan are expected to significantly reduce levels of these pollutants. More information on our draft 2022 Air Quality Management Plan can be found on pages 4-5.

While the air in the South Coast Basin is now much cleaner than it was decades ago, it is still among the worst in the nation. Local air pollution still contributes to asthma and other respiratory diseases, lung damage, cancer, birth defects, and premature deaths. So, South Coast AQMD will continue its work to make forward strides to clean the air that we breathe. 

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South Coast Air Quality Management District

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