You know something is off base when the regional air district monitors and regulates emissions from fire pits on Southern California's beaches, which affect a handful of homeowners, before it gets around to the 24/7 blasts of pollution along the area's freeways. That's not entirely the fault of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, though. Unhealthful emissions from cars and especially trucks along the freeways have fallen into a regulatory black hole until now.
The AQMD regulates only stationary polluters — industrial plants, residential fireplaces, fire pits and the like. But while the freeways are stationary, the cars and trucks that cause the pollution are mobile. So even though the freeways are emitting pollutants all the time — a never-ending source of ultra-fine particulate matter and other noxious emissions that repeated studies have linked to health problems among the people who live closest to them — they are not in fact regulated by the AQMD. In the four counties covered by the South Coast AQMD, that's more than 1 million people. The air district has done occasional spot monitoring, but none of its 35 permanent stations is near a freeway because such stations are supposed to measure regional, not localized, pollution levels. That's an outdated way of gauging the damage caused by air pollution, from before the health dangers of particulates were well understood.
A lawsuit filed last year by the nonprofit public law group Earthjustice forced the
University research over the years has found substantially worse air pollution adjacent to freeways, and worse health among nearby residents as well. A 2005 USC study concluded that children who lived within a quarter of a mile of a freeway were 89% more likely to have