Despite the great strides we’ve made reducing our air pollution, we still breathe some of America’s unhealthiest air here in the Sacramento region.
According to the American Lung Association and TIME Magazine, Sacramento ranks among the nation’s ten most polluted metropolitan areas for both ground-level ozone or “smog” and for lung-damaging fine particles, like the soot found in diesel, auto exhaust and wood smoke.
When we don’t meet federal and state health standards, we risk harming our economy and losing millions of dollars in federal transportation funds under the Clean Air Act. We also risk harming our environment, our health and well-being.
Geography presents a unique challenge. The foothills that are a source of beauty and recreation for residents in Sacramento, Placer, Yolo, El Dorado, Yuba and Sutter counties also keep air pollution close by. Summer heat cooks this cocktail of gases into ground-level ozone, while winter cold traps smoke and soot.
We can’t change the geography or the weather, but much is in our control – especially the pollution from cars, trucks and mobile sources that makes up 70% of our air problem. We’ve reduced unhealthy air days by two-thirds since 1979 thanks to cleaner cars, better fuels, stricter controls on manufacturing and other measures. Our new Regional Blueprint smart-growth plan helps lower reliance on cars by weaving jobs, homes and services closer together.
But we still have a long way to go.
For one, the bar keeps rising higher as air quality standards tighten. Under federal law, we need to make our air cleaner than it is today while accommodating an estimated 50% growth in population over the next two decades. That’s 1.2 million new people – and their cars! Another challenge: the nation’s most sweeping regulations on a third source of air pollution, the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways that all of us can help make a difference – often without making dramatic changes in our daily lives.