Pollution makes air in parts of California dangerous to breathe

Dangerous air forms

LOS ANGELES -- In the West, extreme heat, combined with thick smoke from wildfires and air pollution from millions of cars, is making the air in some places dangerous to breathe.

Back in the 80s, thick hazy smog was as much a part of the Los Angeles skyline as the Hollywood sign.

Today, while Los Angeles County's air quality has improved, health officials say pollution kills 1,300 people a year, making it the deadliest air in the country.

According to a new study, that number is more than triple the number of air pollution related deaths in New York, and twice the total in Texas.

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Downtown Los Angeles is shrouded in early morning coastal fog on Friday, Aug. 12, 2016. AP

"We see that the annual number of excess deaths is quantitatively very similar to the number of deaths from alcohol related traffic fatalities," said lead author of the study Kevin Cromar.

In California, heavy traffic, industrial commerce, lack of rain and wildfires, are all to blame for the air pollution.

"Bad air and high levels of pollution become deadly to a society because chronically people are ingesting these particulate molecules," said Dr. Anthony Cardillo.

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Dr. Cardillo is an emergency room doctor at Glendale Adventist Medical Center. He said he has seen a rise in patients suffering from pollution -- and you don't need to be a medical expert to figure out the solution.

"If we had tighter restrictions and better control over our air quality, we would see a drop, or decline in these acute crises that people have with these underlying chronic conditions," he said.

The pollution in California has been so bad, that federal health standards for ozone levels have only been met three days this summer.

Experts believe, with another heat wave hitting the West Coast and sticking around through the middle of the week, air quality will continue to get worse.

  • Mireya Villarreal

    Mireya Villarreal is a CBS News correspondent.