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As EPA moves to crack down on smog, here's a closer look at its physical toll

January 8, 2010 |  9:41 am


Photo: Sometimes, breathing deeply may not be a good thing. Shown here, Downtown Los Angeles shrouded in smog. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

Dirty air can't actually be good for us. That seems logical enough. But many people may not know just how bad it can be. With the Environmental Protection Agency proposing stricter rules to improve the nation's air quality, we offer a quick refresher on the reasons for such concern. 

-- In this recent Los Angeles Times story, which began with new studies linking air pollution to appendicitis and ear infections, writer Jill Adams reports:

Research on air pollution has been conducted worldwide for decades and is part of the basis for government regulation of air quality. Study after study has found more hospitalizations and higher death rates when certain pollutants are high. In addition to respiratory effects, research has established that air pollution increases the risk of cardiovascular events such as arrhythmia, heart attack and stroke, and the incidence of certain cancers.

Read more.

-- Here, staff writer Jeannine Stein explores the hazards to Angelenos, and outdoor exercisers in particular. She writes about the potentially hazardous effects of gasping dirty air:

Those effects, which can include coughing, a burning sensation in the lungs and shortness of breath, come from inhaling various particles from smoke and exhaust that make lung tissues swell and airway passages narrow. Brisk exercise exacerbates the effects (when and how severe those are vary from person to person). Because muscles need more oxygen to work, breathing rates increase by about seven times.... As a result, the lungs take in and expel double to triple the normal amount of air -- dramatically increasing their exposure to pollutants." This is especially problematic for people with coronary artery disease.

Read more.

-- Because air quality is often worse near freeways, Erin Cline Davis explores pollution's effects on those who live nearest L.A.'s automobile-heavy areas. She notes:

Everyone is familiar with the gray-brown haze that often blankets Los Angeles, and the fact that the city consistently ranks as one of the most polluted in America. But what many may forget is that the dismal reports of L.A.'s air pollution only capture the average amounts of toxins in the air, and that some places within the urban sprawl are far dirtier than others. Official numbers do not take into account the fact that pollutants are at much higher levels within a few hundred feet of the freeways that crisscross the city -- and for the adults and kids who live, work or go to school there, the effects add up.

Read more.

-- The California Environmental Protection Agency offers this look at the health effects of air pollution and these measures of current and recent air quality. Thursday wasn't a stellar one for the South Coast Air Basin.

As for the new move to improve air quality, here's that story from today's Los Angeles Times: EPA proposes nation's strictest smog limits ever

-- Tami Dennis