OAKLAND — A report released by an environmental research group in Oakland Wednesday says that dirty air accounts for more deaths in California than traffic accidents, homicides and AIDS combined.
The Environmental Working Group says its analysis of state data found respiratory illnesses caused or aggravated by particulate matter — microscopic particles of soot and dust in the air — are responsible for more than 9,300 death, 16,000 hospital visits, 600,000 asthma attacks, and 5 million lost work days in California each year.
“There's an overwhelming scientific consensus that particulate pollution kills people,'' said Renee Sharp, one of the report's authors. “Cleaning up the air is as important to public health and safety as wearing seatbelts.’’
The Environmental Working Group says that particulate air pollution in California is most severe in the San Joaquin Valley and in the greater Los Angeles area.
The most significant source of particulates in the San Joaquin Valley is the agriculture industry, the group reports; however, most agricultural activities are exempt from state and federal air pollution rules.
An Environmental Working Group spokesman said state scientists have proposed tougher standards, but they face strong opposition from a coalition of oil companies and automakers.
The Air Resources Board, appointed by Gov. Gray Davis, plans to vote on the proposed standards next month, he said.
Statewide, 55 of 58 counties have average annual particulate levels that exceed the proposed standards, according to the group. If these standards were approved and enacted, it says, it could save California $500 million a year, reduce particulate matter-deaths by at least 69 percent, and cut the number of asthma attacks suffered by 57 percent.