California cities are among the most polluted in America
04/27/2017 // Frances Bloomfield // Views

Be careful where you breathe in California; several cities in this state have the worst air pollution in America.

In their annual “State of the Air” report, the American Lung Association revealed that the city of Bakersfield, Calif., had the worst spikes of short-term air pollution. The city also ranked among the worst in terms of year-round air pollution and ozone pollution, second only to Visalia, Calif., and Los Angeles, respectively. The cities of Fresno, Calif., Modesto, Calif., and San Francisco were also named as having some of the worst short- and long-term air pollution.

“No state has done more to address air pollution than California has done over the last 50 years. But they also have the biggest problems,” stated Paul Billings, Senior Vice President of Advocacy at the American Lung Association. Billings then went on to add that California's growing population and topography were what allowed air pollution to bypass the state's strict environmental laws, reported The Central Valley—which includes Bakersfield, Visalia, Fresno, and Modesto—has been described as “topographically cursed” because its flat bowl shape traps air pollution that accumulates over time.

"Nearly year-round sunny skies also don't help: those picture-perfect days are a major factor in high levels of ozone pollution," Billings also said.

The effects of air pollution

Constant exposure to unhealthy levels of air pollution have detrimental effects on the human body. Among the risks are premature death, asthma attacks, lung cancer, and cardiovascular damage. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 1.2 million people are killed annually by urban air pollution. However, recent studies have shown that air pollution can do more than afflict a person with serious lung and heart ailments.


Researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health discovered that children born to economically-deficient pregnant women, who were also exposed to high levels of air pollution, scored low on IQ tests. One specific type of air pollution, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), was found to be the most deadly to unborn children.

“The group with high levels of PAH-DNA cord adducts significantly scored lower on tests of full scale IQ, perceptual reasoning, and working memory compared to those children with lower levels of adducts,” stated the researchers, who first published their study in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology.

A previous report by the team revealed similar findings. “Prenatal exposure to airborne PAH during gestation was associated with development delay at age three, reduced verbal and full scale IQ at age 5, and symptoms of anxiety and depression at age seven.”

"The scientific data show real concern for children growing up in California cities ending up cognitively impaired," warned Mike Adams, lab science director of CWC Labs, an environmental science lab. "It means that in addition to producing a tremendous amount of pollution, California is also producing a startling number of youth who may have suffered permanent brain damage that impairs their ability to intelligently function in a civil society."

In addition to the threat to unborn children, air pollution can also considerably damage the minds of people by increasing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.

Researchers from the University of Southern California reported that older women who lived in areas with elevated levels of “ultrafine particles” were twice as likely to develop dementia. A research team from the University of Toronto in Canada discovered that people who lived within 50 meters of a major road were 12 percent more susceptible to acquiring the disease. Even animals weren't safe from the effects of air pollution; a neuroscientist learned that older dogs in Mexico City, particularly those who lived polluted areas, had brains that contained ample protein deposits associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Although they might not know it, many Californians are putting themselves at risk by stepping outside their homes. Even with the strict air pollution laws in place, the problem continues to persist. Only time will tell if these cities will get better or if their people will begin feeling the effects of the Californian smog.

Read more about air pollution and other environmental issues at

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