Sample Research Paper on Air Pollution in Los Angeles

Air Pollution in Los Angeles


This paper discusses the problem of air pollution in Loss Angeles (LA) City in the State of California, United States of America. According to the latest State of Air Pollution in America, the City of LA emerged as the most polluted region in the country. In this paper, the author examines some of the possible reasons explaining the causes of air pollution in LA. For a clear understanding of the topic, the author reviews the historical background of air pollution in America, including the America’s effort to counter the impact of air pollution. In particular, the paper evaluates some of the specific measures that LA and California State implements to avert the impact of air pollution.

The paper is organized in a simplified structure for clarity and conciseness. Firstly, the author introduces the topic, painting the real scenario of air pollution in America in general and LA City in particular. Further, the paper defines air pollution and its unit of measurement, which is the Air Quality index. Under this section, the author expounds different levels of air pollution and the impact of each level to human health. After the definition, the author explores history and statistical facts of air pollution in America and in the City of LA. The author reviews some of the geographical and human-related causes of air pollution in LA as well as the impacts of air pollution on LA residents. Lastly, the paper examines some of the responses by various authorities to the menace of air pollution.

Throughout the research, the author has made extensive reference to scientific studies that were published in the year 2000 and later. In addition, the paper refers to the latest statistical data from the American Lung Association, where appropriate. The research finds that air pollution is a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of the LA residents, and therefore should be addressed immediately. However, most of the programs initiated to avert the problem are long-term and are likely to achieve their goals in later years. While these programs are appropriate, it is also necessary for the policy makers to identify short-term and immediate solutions to the problem to mitigate the dire consequences of exposure to polluted air.


When walking around the city streets, people will often get concerned about the heaps of waste and debris that remain uncollected for more than a few days. Often, the public questions the relevant authority when the city is not well kept and physically attractive. Undoubtedly, people are concerned about the environmental cleanliness; however, how many of them are about the unseen dirt in the air that they breathe? According to Seinfeld and Spyros (1), air pollution is one of the major environmental problems in the modern days. As a result of increased industrial activities, dangerous particles have found their way into the atmosphere, interfering with the healthy air composition. Consequently, people in most parts of the world are exposed to unhealthy deadly particles through the air that they inhale. According to the American Lung Association’s (ALA) report, for example, about 150 million Americans are exposed to unhealthy air (2014). Some of the US regions are worse affected than others, depending on the specific environmental conditions in the area. For instance, several cities in California have been recording high level of air pollution for several years. For example, the ALA 2014 report named the City of Los Angeles (LA) as the city with worst air quality. It is because of the ALA’s findings that this research investigates the extent and impacts of air pollution in Los Angeles.

Defining Air Pollution

Air pollution is the existence of harmful chemical or biological particles in the atmosphere. According to the Environmental Protection Agency standards, there are five major components whose release to the atmosphere results in excessive air pollution. These components include the Carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, Sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone, and particulate matters (Simioni 3). The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies air pollution into two broad categories, namely the outdoor and indoor pollution. Outdoor air pollution involves the release of the heavy components into the atmosphere and affects a larger part of the global sphere. Indoor pollution, on the other hand, results in insufficient burn of fuels in an enclosed environment. These may include cooking fuels, such as agricultural residue and coal. As WHO elaborates, both outdoor and indoor air pollution is hazardous. However, outdoor pollutants affect a larger population at the same time and cause more deaths.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is the accepted standard of air pollution measurement. AQI is a combination of both real-time and continuous atmospheric compositions of the five major air pollutants (Simioni 7). AQI estimate ranges from 0-500, with the health risk increasing with the AQI. There are six levels of AQI classified according to the health risk attributed to each level. The first level, which includes AQI of 1-50, is the accepted level of AQI at which air pollution poses little or no health risk. From 51 to 100 AQI, however, there are moderate health risks where people with sensitive respiratory systems may be affected. Although many people may tolerate the impact of third level air pollution, ranging between 101 and 150, the level is unhealthy for sensitive pollution, including elderly and young children. Over 150 AQI, the air pollution becomes unhealthy, posing significant threat to the general population. At AQI of 200-300, serious health issues, such as disease outbreaks may be recorded (Nel 804). Above 300 AQI, air pollution becomes intolerable and may trigger emergency heal conditions. The table below summarizes the various levels of AQI, showing the distinguishing colors that are used to represent each level.


Air Quality Index
(AQI) Values
Levels of Health Concern Colors
When the AQI is in this range: ..air quality conditions are: …as symbolized by this color:
0-50 Good Green
51-100 Moderate Yellow
101-150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups Orange
151 to 200 Unhealthy Red
201 to 300 Very Unhealthy Purple
301 to 500 Hazardous Maroon


Air Pollution in America

Although air pollution begun as early as the man’s ancient existence, a substantive level of air pollution dates back to the time of Industrial environment. Prior to industrialization, man’s activities led to an insignificant level of unfavorable gas emissions. In America, for example, the discharge of air pollutant substances increased significantly during the coal mining in 1700. However, the Americans did not acknowledge the problem of air pollution until mid-20th century, when the Congress enacted the first clean air equation. There are various sources of air pollution in America, including exhaust from automobiles, smoke from burning plantations, volatile compounds released from manufacturing industries, and aerosols from various chemicals.  However, carbon dioxide release from cars and running engines contributes to over 60% of the entire air pollution.

In the 1960s, the American Congress took note of the increased air pollution and its impact to human health. As a response, they enacted the Clean Air Act (CAA) that defined measures of regulating air pollution. The act that would subsequently be amended for a series of times authorizes the EPE to establish acceptable levels of various components in the air. It was after the Clean Air Act that EPE defined measurement standards for the risky air substances, including particulate matter, ozone, SO2, CO2, NO2, and lead metal. Consistent to the Congress’ anticipation, the enactment of CAA led to a substantive reduction in air pollution between 1970 and 2006. For instance, CO2 emission reduced from 197 million tons in the 1970s to 89 million by 2006 ( Similarly, NO2 and SO2 fell by 30 and 50%, respectively, while both of the particulate matter and lead emissions fell by over 80% each ( From 2006, however, the EPA warned of the increased threats of the ozone smog, which subsequently raised the AQI.

Los Angeles Air Pollution

Even with the enforcement of the CAA regulations, some parts of the US have continually recorded high levels of air pollution. The City of Los Angeles (elsewhere abbreviated as LA) has topped the list of US’ most polluted cities for many years. LA is located in the Southern parts of California, in the coastal region. It is the second largest city in the US after the New York City. LA is an economic and cultural hub that attracts thousands of tourists and foreign traders annually (Davis 3). With a population of over 3.7 million people, the City is known with its cultural and ethnic diversity. However, the people of Los Angeles have hardly experienced an environmental friendly climate since 1970s. This, as Davis (10) explains, has been as a result of increased air pollution. The following is a review of air pollution in the city.

The rate of air pollution in LA, together with its surrounding cities within California, served as a wakeup call to the US to address the menace. In as early as the 1970s, LA was already covered with deep smog, emanating from accumulation of dust particles and CO2 emissions. The first intensive smog in the city was reported in 1943 during the heightened Word War II. As Fulton (4) explains, the smog was strong enough that some American mistook it for a Japanese chemical Attack. Despite the increased warnings from environments that the smog was caused by air pollution, Fulton states that people lived in denial, protesting the fact that automobiles were responsible for air pollution (5). The smog evoked heated political and public argument as people held on to their pollutant motor vehicles. Although the smog cover has reduced significantly, the level of ozone has been rising steadfastly. In addition, LA still experiences a smog season between May and October every year.

Causes of Air pollution in LA

There are various cultural and geographical reasons that make LA more prone to air pollution. For instance, the city’s topography sets it as a natural trap for air pollutants. California and particularly LA is surrounded by mountains that traps dirty air particles from the city. In addition, the city is one of the geographical areas that experience temperature inversion; this means that the temperature increases with increasing height, contrary to the normal correlation between height and temperature. As Seinfeld and Spyros explain, one of the immediate impacts of temperature inversion is smog (19). According to him, smog in LA is intense in the season of temperature inversion, that is, May to October.

Aside from the geographical causes, various human activities predispose LA to increased air pollution. For instance, LA is one of the cities with largest number of automobiles. The economic growth in the city has led to an increase in the number of heavy-duty transport vehicle as well as the normal personal cars. According to Jerrett (727) LA had over one million cars on the roads in 1940. By then, the less pollutant vehicle technology had not been discovered, raising the risk of air pollution per one vehicle. Today, there are relatively high number of vehicles than the LA highways can handle, creating regular traffic snarl-ups. This, as Jerret (728) elaborates, increases the health risks of air pollution in the communities living along the highways. In addition, LA is home to the Ports of Los Angeles and of Long Beach (LB), which emits huge amounts of diesel-related pollutant. The Port of LB, for example, has been identified as the single largest source of unsafe gases in the entire California. According to Simioni (17), the port discharges more deadly diesel soot than 6 million vehicles in a single day. Further, LA is an industrial town with a number of manufacturing companies based in the city. However, analysts have found that the contribution of industries to the air pollution in LA is minimal.

Impacts of Air Pollution in LA

The impacts of breathing contaminated air are dire to human health. According to Jerrett (727), various health conditions are directly attributed to exposure to unclean air. Firstly, mothers who are exposed to certain air pollutants during pregnancy have a higher chance of delivering premature and underweight babies (Wilhelm and Beate 1212). Usually, preemies and underweight babies are more susceptible to diseases due to their underdeveloped immunity. Therefore, they require an additional cost to rise owing to high rates of hospitalization. In addition, studies have proved that exposure to polluted air affects the human skin due to strong metallic and gaseous components in the air. Skin impacts may range from simple lesions, sunburns or even skin cancer.

One of the major and common impacts of air pollution is increased respiratory diseases. These are the illnesses that affect the respiratory system, such as asthma, Bronchitis, and lung failures (Coogan 767). While some air pollutants affect only the people with sensitive respiratory systems, such as those with asthma, and allergies, studies have shown that ground-level ozone affects the healthy population. According to Jacobs and William (13), for example, exposure to ozone for a continuous duration of six hours can reduce lung function no matter the ozone gas concentration. For this reason, people who live in LA are likely to report impaired lung functionality at some point in their lives, owing to continuous exposure to ozone. In addition, studies have identified a correlation between prolonged exposure to ozone and increased hospitalization due to respiratory defects (Linn 427, Moolgavkar 183). Other symptom of respiratory system failures that may increase with increased exposure to polluted air includes pulmonary congestion, chest pain, nasal blockage, and coughing.

Additionally, the people of LA are at a higher risk of contracting other diseases, including cardiovascular ailments, stroke and different cancers. For instance, people leaving along the Ports of LA and LB have 60% higher chances of contracting cancer than those living elsewhere in the US. As a result of high risk of contracting diseases, people of Los Angeles also have a relatively high mortality rate. In his spatial analysis of the population and mortality rates in LA, Jerret (736) found that high risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases increase the mortality rates of the Los Angeles population.

What is LA Doing to Avert Air Pollution?

It is apparent that LA people are suffering from exposure to polluted air; however, is the California State and the US federal governments doing enough to avert the problem? According to Fulton (4), the fight against air pollution in the city of LA has encountered various challenges. For instance, some policy makers tend to believe that the situation is natural and irreversible owing to the areas’ geographical structures that are partly responsible for air pollution. Additionally, the issue of air pollution, like any other public matter, encounters political interest conflicts, which hinder policy efficiencies. Moreover, the people are accustomed to particular lifestyles, including use of cars and motor vehicles, which contribute to air pollution (Fulton 12). More importantly, however, some of the greatest contributors of air pollution in LA are the economic backbone of the city, and thus cannot be disbanded. For instance, the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are the major city’s economic hubs yet they discharges tons of unhealthy gases. Nonetheless, what has the policy makers done and what are the achievements so far?

One of the major responses by the California policy makers has been the splendid efforts to tackle automobile carbon emissions. For instance, the California government outlawed the use of old vehicles whose rate of carbon emission is exceedingly high (Dixon and Steven 7). The Los Angeles County Economic Development (LAED) in collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been in the forefront in lessening traffic snarl-ups. In 2011, for example, the two unveiled a transportation strategy whose effort was to reduce the number of vehicles in the streets. Although the strategy was faced with challenges, such as technological failures, it is believed to yield success in relieving traffic congestion. In 2012, moreover, the California Department of Transport started to expand the freeway in traffic prone routes, such as the 710 corridor to the LB port. This expansion intended to ease traffic congestion, thus reducing the time wasted in the highways as well as the amount of automobile carbon emissions. Most recently, LA introduced new road design, dubbed as an ‘e-highway’, where bulk transits, which are high emitters of carbon will be running on emission-free electric power. This will significantly reduce the amount of automobile emissions by the end of 2015.

LA has invested greatly in port cleanup programs that have substantially reduced port-emanated air pollution. In 2008, for example, the LA and LB Ports announced the replacement of their traditional trucks with Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) model as per the EPA clean air standards. The ports also enacted measures that required ships to switch off on-board systems when approaching the docks. The two moves aimed at reducing the overall port’s emissions by close to 50% at the time.

Although the California policy makers are dedicated in addressing the air pollution problem in LA, the issue has persisted over the years. Even though there have been substantive achievements in the reduction in the emission of various emissions, some, such as ground-level ozone are still alarming. Most of the state’s and the federal government’s responses are long-term, whose impact cannot be realized immediately. For instance, the replacement of ordinary vehicles with electricity run motors cannot be achieved in a day. However, the people of LA are still suffering even as the clean air strategies are underway. For this reason, the authors of this paper find that the government and other relevant bodies should also incorporate short-term measures to assist those who are already ailing or are surviving the impacts of polluted air. For instance, it is known that May-October is a smog-covered season. The government may adopt rules that suspend or moderate various operations that emit smog during this period. In addition, the government should avail medication to those exposed to polluted air, especially the sensitive groups. The government may also work towards establishing vaccines to various health conditions that are related to air pollution.

In conclusion, air pollution in Los Angeles is alarming. Although the smog presence in the city has significantly reduced than it was in 1950s, the city has remained one of the most polluted US cities. Even though the LA’s geographical features predisposes it to air pollution, human activities are also largely responsible for the pollution. For instance, the automobiles and Port activities are the largest sources of carbon emissions in the city. For this reason, the solution to the air pollution problems lies with the human being. LA should therefore not relent in their effort to seal automobiles and Ports air pollution loopholes. Additionally, California policy makers should also instigate short-term strategies that aim at helping the people who are already breathing the polluted air.


Works Cited

American Lung Association. State of the Air. (2013).

Coogan, Patricia F., et al. “Air pollution and incidence of hypertension and diabetes mellitus in black women living in Los Angeles.” Circulation 125.6 (2012): 767-772.

Dixon, Lloyd S., and Steven Garber. Fighting Air Pollution in Southern California by Scrapping Old Vehicles. Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 2001. Print.

Davis, Mike. City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (New Edition). Verso Books, 2006. Web.

Fulton, William. The reluctant metropolis: The politics of urban growth in Los Angeles. JHU Press, 2001. Print.

Jacobs, Chip, and William J. Kelly. Smogtown: The Lung-burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2008. Print.

Jerrett, Michael, et al. “Spatial analysis of air pollution and mortality in Los Angeles.” Epidemiology 16.6 (2005): 727-736.

Linn, William S., et al. “Air pollution and daily hospital admissions in metropolitan Los Angeles.” Environmental health perspectives 108.5 (2000): 427.

Nel, Andre. “Air pollution-related illness: effects of particles.” Science 308.5723 (2005): 804-806.


Moolgavkar, S. H. “Air pollution and daily deaths and hospital admissions in Los Angeles and Cook counties.” Revised analyses of time-series studies of air pollution and health (2003): 183-198.

Simioni, Daniela. Air Pollution and Citizen Awareness. Santiago, Chile: United Nations ECLAC, 2004. Print.

Seinfeld, John H., and Spyros N. Pandis. Atmospheric chemistry and physics: from air pollution to climate change. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

Wilhelm, Michelle, and Beate Ritz. “Local variations in CO and particulate air pollution and adverse birth outcomes in Los Angeles County, California, USA.” Environmental Health Perspectives (2005): 1212-1221.