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Southern California's air pollution remains high

April 28, 2009 | 11:59 pm

  Bakersfield had the worst level of fine-particle pollution in the nation last year — a toxic mix of soot,diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that contribute to heart attacks, strokes and lung disease, according to the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report.

The San Joaquin Valley city displaced Los Angeles, which fell to the third spot in the category of year-round particle pollution, behind second-place Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa. Kern County, which includes Bakersfield, was ranked the worst county in the nation for average annual particulate pollution. The lung association report is based on data from local governments’ air monitoring stations and statistics gathered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

   Los Angeles-Long Beach retained its spot as the worst ozone-polluted metropolitan area, despite a slight improvement in its air in the past last year. San Bernardino ranked as the nation’s worst county for ozone pollution. Ozone, a powerful gas formed when sunlight reacts with vapors from vehicles, factories and power plants, irritates the lungs when inhaled. It causes wheezing and asthma attacks, and can shorten lives.

In Bakersfield and Kern County, heavy-duty trucks  and farm equipment are the biggest sources of fine particulate pollution. But wood burning is also a large  contributor to wintertime levels. “The problem in the San Joaquin Valley is generated both from the emissions themselves and the meteorology of the valley,” said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, a lung association official. “Inversion layers and stagnant weather holds pollutants close to communities, sometimes for days at a time.”

--Margot Roosevelt

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