LocationAlhambra , CA United States
I have spent the last five years living in Alhambra. I have loved the food, the parks and the views of the mountains. I have made many friends and have been inspired by local groups that fight for good governance, for preservation of Alhambra’s uniqueness and for the environment. Alhambra is a dynamic place that feels like home.
So it is with a sad heart that I am forced to leave. Forced by the fact that I’m lucky enough to have a choice to leave and because of that, I cannot morally stay.
Simply put, Alhambra is a toxic place to live. Every single breath taken in Alhambra is toxic to your lungs, to your brain and to your longevity.
Before I get into the nitty gritty, I understand that the air quality is “better than it used to be,” a phrase which seems to be the only answer I get when I bring this topic up.
Yes, it is better. But it is still deadly. You should know about it and you should keep pressure on your local, state, and federal government to try and make improvements. I understand though that it feels like the state and federal government won’t listen at the moment.
However, your voice can be heard at the city level in Alhambra. There is an election coming and three seats on the City Council are open. Make this a campaign issue. Ask the question, “What specifically do you propose to make the air quality in Alhambra better for my kids and my grandkids?”
Los Angeles County, which Alhambra is a part of, has the worst air in the country. We get an “F” from the American Lung Association. And since this organization has started monitoring air quality across the country, Los Angeles has been the worst for ozone pollution and things were were worse this year than last. In their 2018 State of the Air report the American Lung Association said that over the past three years, Los Angeles County experienced an average of 212 days per year where the ozone was “unhealthy for sensitive populations;” 73 days where the ozone was “unhealthy” and 6 days where the ozone was “very unhealthy.” Ozone pollution is at unhealthy levels for individuals in the community nearly 80 percent of the time. This is unacceptable.
The EPA’s website points to science showing that long-term exposure to ozone can lead to permanent lung-damage and abnormal lung development in children. It can also aggravate asthma, cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and make it hard to breathe. In other words, the air you’re breathing now is the worst in the country. Yet your local leaders do not take this seriously enough to make it a constant talking point.
Particle pollution is also a problem. How many days a year are there where you can’t even see the San Gabriel Mountains? They are a mere eight miles away and yet there is usually so much stuff in the air that you can’t see mile-high mountains.
Another measurement of air quality is particulate matter (PM), which measures matter that is suspended in the air. Particles that are smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5) cause health problems because they penetrate into the regions of the lungs that exchange gases. The Los Angeles-Long Beach area is the fourth worst metropolitan area for particle pollution in the state. For PM 2.5 levels, the EPA’s cutoff for healthy air is 12 micrograms of particulate matter for every cubic meter of air. From the EPA’s own data, the 2014-2016 annual average for the Los Angeles-South Coast Air basin was 14.5 micrograms per cubic meter.
As you can see, the air over the course of a year, each year, is toxic. Exposure to particle pollution is linked to asthma, lung cancer, premature death. By living in the awful air of Los Angeles County, you will live eight months less than you would if the air were clean!
Particle pollution can also lead to developmental delays in children. One recent study demonstrated that particulate matter causes diabetes. Another study published in “Biological Psychiatry” looked at particle pollution on the brain development of children. The findings are downright scary. The air you breathe while your child is in utero has a noticeable effect on brain development:
Exposure to fine particles during fetal life was related to child brain structural alterations of the cerebral cortex and these alterations partially mediated the association between exposure to fine particles during fetal life and impaired child inhibitory control. Such cognitive impairment at early ages could have significant long-term consequences.
With all of this information, and knowing that air pollution kills three-times more people per year than AIDS, TB and malaria combined, when I made the choice to leave, it turns out that air quality was the primary factor for me and my family. I never thought I would be a “clean-air refugee.”
For those of you who will stay in the greater L.A. area, the Los Angeles Times recently published an article with detailed information about how to protect yourself.
I think you should all know the data, the risks and not be satisfied with someone saying “it’s better than it used to be.” When you can, vote for people who care about this issue, who care about your day-to-day health. In Alhambra this fall, fill the City Council with people who will think about the one thing that ties us all together in Alhambra, the one thing that we all suffer from and the one thing that many of us don’t have a choice to run from: the air.
Alex Rivest obtained a BS in biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his PhD in neuroscience from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His scientific works have been published in Science, Nature Neuroscience and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. He is currently developing feature films and television shows around these stories.
For a side-by-side comparison of good air quality days and bad air quality days in Alhambra, see the slideshow attached to this article.