California Coughing Up $28 Billion a Year in Pollution Costs

los angeles smog photo

Image from steven.buss

We all knew the costs of pollution -- both health-related and economic -- were high but $28 billion a year? That is the sum Cal State Fullerton's Jane Hall believes pollution is costing the Golden State on an annual basis, according to the LAT's Louis Sahagun: the result of over 3,800 premature deaths and illnesses associated with high levels of particulates and ozone. (Three thousand of these deaths, which are linked to smog, account for roughly $25 billion alone.) And, if that wasn't bad enough, more than 90 percent of Southern Californians breathe air that is harmful to their health.

particulate pollution image

The report (entitled "The Benefits of Meeting Federal Clean Air Standards in the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley Air Basins"), co-written by Jane Hall and Victor Brajer, both professors of economics affiliated with the university's Institute for Economics and Environment Studies, focused primarily on the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast air basins. Though the health-related effects of air pollution disproportionately figured into the economic losses, Hall and Brajer also found that emergency room visits, work and school absences and several additional factors contributed to the high costs.

Here are some of the report's key findings:

- Premature deaths among those age 30 and older: 3,812

- Premature deaths in infants: 13

- New cases of adult onset chronic bronchitis: 1,950

- Days of reduced activity in adults: 3,517,720

- Hospital admissions: 2,760

- Asthma attacks: 141,370

- Days of school absence: 1,259,840

- Cases of acute bronchitis in children: 16,110

- Lost days of work: 466,880

- Days of respiratory symptoms in children: 2,078,300

- Emergency room visits: 2,800

The number of air pollution-related deaths in Los Angeles County is more than twice the number of driving-related deaths. Reaching the federally-mandated PM (particulate matter) 2.5 air quality standard in these counties would save more lives than removing all vehicles from the roads.

The hardest-hit areas have always tended to be those mainly populated by minority and low-income communities. In their study, Hall and Brajer found that the effects of exposure were now quickly spreading beyond the usual neighborhoods -- in the South Coast basin, around 64 percent of residents are exposed to hazardous levels of particulates and, in Los Angeles County, 75 percent are exposed.

While their report does not make any specific recommendations, the message is pretty clear: fixing air pollution should be the government's top priority. Unfortunately, its release could not have come at a worst time; with California one of the worst sufferers from the economic crisis (and home to a staggering number of home foreclosures), it will be tough going trying to get the legislature to act on the findings. Even the Governator, who has been no slouch when it comes to the environment (with some notable exceptions), might relent in the face of vehement protests from anti-regulation policymakers, automakers, utilities and other groups.

More about California and pollution
California Commits to Significantly Reducing Storm Water Pollution
California Uses More Gasoline and Diesel than China

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