L.A. Weekly publishes a special 30-page report this week on the state of Los Angeles' air, entitled "Clear and Present Danger: What You Can't See Can Kill You."
After decades of marked improvement, air quality is slipping, and the new menace is fossil fuel emissions known as ultrafine particles. The report focuses on the findings of UCLA scientist John Froines, who believes that the microscopic particles -- more than a million of them can be found in a marble-sized chunk of air in the smoggiest parts of Southern California -- are killing and sickening thousands of residents. The particles may be an unwitting consequence of vehicle pollution devices that have proven so successful in cleaning up other elements of L.A.'s smog.
The special report includes a two-page map showing the specific cancer risks faced by residents who live near the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where ships and thousands of trucks produce huge amounts of diesel particles every day.
One of the chief writers of the special report is William J. Kelly, who was the AQMD's spokesman for 13 years before he left the agency in 2001, disillusioned that it had become cozy with big-business interests at the expense of the fight for clean air. In his story documenting the evidence of slipping quality of L.A.'s air, Kelly issues this challenge:
"The unhealthy state of our air amounts to a public-health emergency. Yet no elected official will step forward to declare such a crisis. At a time when politicians and smog-fighting agencies should be unveiling new initiatives to combat air pollution, they are retreating," Kelly said. Instead powerful industry lobbyists and weak regulating agencies have let the issue slide -- sending gasping, asthmatic children to emergency rooms every year and leaving otherwise healthy adults with chronic respiratory diseases -- while the companies that profit from moving goods and making diesel exhaust get a free ride.
The special report also explores smog in the cultural and political realms. Greg Goldin shares some of the wacky ideas suggested over the past 50 years for cleaning our skies, from installing giant fans on the mountains to above-ground pipes lining downtown streets to whisk it away into the atmosphere. D.J. Waldie compares a recent August afternoon to one 50 years ago, when he was 7 and overcome by the nasty brown air with a stinging bleaching-solution odor. Kate Sullivan surveys the musical life of air pollution. Judith Lewis wonders why we have more efficient refrigerators than cars, and finds "The Smog Doctor" in his lab at USC. Investigative writer Jeffrey Anderson nails the "mod Caucus," so-called moderate Democrats who bow to industry lobbying and vote against clean-air legislation. Christine Pelisek and Mehammed Mack share the struggles of people sickened by the smog and those who are crusading to clear our skies. We also come up with a few ideas for fixing the mess in our skies. Political columnist Marc Cooper compares the performance of our smog-fighting agencies to FEMA, and calls for a couple top-level firings. And, among other ideas, we call on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to develop a more ambitious plan to clean up the Port of Los Angeles than the status-quo plan of his predecessor, and long for a return to the traffic-regulation days of the 1984 Olympics.
Thanks to Alan Mittelstaedt