Watch CBS News

New report shows California and the Bay Area struggling with air pollution

Bay Area scores poor marks in nationwide air pollution report
Bay Area scores poor marks in nationwide air pollution report 05:16

A newly released report by the American Lung Association reveals that the state of California -- and the Bay Area -- has some of the worst air quality in the entire country.

The organization's 25th annual "State of the Air" report issued Wednesday that more than 9 out of 10 Californians live in a community earning a failing grade for unhealthy ozone pollution days, unhealthy particle pollution days and/or unhealthy annual particle pollution levels, despite decades of strong progress in cleaning the air and reducing pollution. 

More than 8 in 10 Californians live in an area with failing grades in each category.  

"With a quarter-century of air pollution data behind it, 'State of the Air' 2024 clearly shows that progress is being made but that much more work lies ahead when it comes to healthy air in California as our climate crisis intensifies," Senior Manager for Clean Air Advocacy Mariela Ruacho was quoted as saying in the press release accompanying the report. "California must aggressively tackle air and climate pollution by maintaining strong policies and budget priorities. This is not the time to slow or cut state investments supporting those living in communities that bear the greatest burden of unhealthy air."  

While the areas with the worst air quality measurements were Bakersfield -- which came in #3 for unhealthy ozone pollution days and topped the list for both unhealthy particle pollution days and unhealthy annual particle pollution levels -- and the area around Fresno, Madera and Hanford in the Central Valley -- #4 for unhealthy ozone pollution days, #3 for unhealthy particle pollution days and #2 for unhealthy annual particle pollution levels -- the Bay Area still ranked in or near the top ten in all three categories.

The combined readings for San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland ranked 12th worst for high ozone days, 7th worst for 24-hour particle pollution and fifth worst for annual particle pollution out of the over 200 metropolitan areas of the United State measured in the report.

"I noticed a lot of change, the air changing," said Hewt Windeny.  

Windeny was spending the day in Bateman Park in Berkeley. She said she likes being outside, but recently started experiencing problems due to the air quality.

"Around a year and a half," she said regarding how long she has had symptoms. "I never had allergies before. Now my nose is itchy; my eyes, my face."

Windeny said she tries to stay away from pollutants. But Will Barrett, senior director of clean air advocacy with the American Lung Association, says it's impossible to avoid all the things that are impacting the air.

"When you think about the the everyday sources of air pollution -- especially things like pollution coming out of the port, for example -- these are major sources of pollution that are impacting us every day," Barrett said. "But there's also, when you layer in on top of that the wildfire smoke episodes that we've seen over recent years, it's really adding to the challenges of keeping the air clean for every community."

Wildfires are the major contributors setting the Bay Area apart from other regions.

Melissa Lunden is a scientist with Aclima, a company that measures and analyze air pollution and greenhouse gasses. She says she's not surprised by the results of the ALA's study. She says the high level of particulate matter, or PM, in the air can be deteremental to people's health.

"High PM levels impact almost every aspect of your body, but certainly they're known to increase asthma, [and impact the] cardiovascular system," Lunden said. "High PM levels have been linked to higher incidences of morbidity and mortality."

London says even though she doesn't have asthma or other sensitivities, the air quality still affects her.

"I feel that the air quality impacts my health when I am exercising," said Lunden. "I like to go and run and ride my bike. And on days with high PM, I won't do it. I just don't think it's worth the impact on my body."

Barrett says the air quality affects people with pre-existing conditions worse than others.

"People with asthma, heart disease, and other illnesses are at greater risk," Barrett said. "Even one day of unhealthy air can trigger a heath emergency ranging from asthma attacks to heart attacks to strokes. In long-term cases, lung cancer and premature death."

He says when the air quality index shows the air is particularly bad, people in sensitive groups should reduce their time outdoors and use a HEPA air filter while inside.

Windeny says if things continue on this trajectory she worries for future generations.

"If it continues like this?" she asked. "Yeah. If it continues like this, everything makes you worry now for a lot of kids."

The ALA says there have been some improvements in reducing smog and that some of that is due to electric vehicles. The Bay Area is 12th worst for ozone pollution.

Barrett says the ALA wants to see more people and organizations moving towards zero emission technology.

A total of 12 California cities appear on at least one of the lists of the 25 most polluted cities in the nation. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Bakersfield, Fresno-Madera-Hanford, Sacramento-Roseville, San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, and Visalia appear on the most polluted cities lists for all three categories.   

The State of the Air report list of the most polluted cities in the U.S. can be found at the American Lung Association website.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.