No one saw this coming before the coronavirus outbreak, a mere seven weeks ago.
Since the mid-March when the stay at home order from the governor began and far less cars have been on roadways, the Los Angeles skyline, once obscured by smog, is experiencing some of the cleanest air in the nation.
Taking notice is South Pasadena City Councilmember Michael Cacciotti who also serves as a board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD), the regulatory agency for major portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and all of Orange County.
“What this health crisis has shown us is that by reducing the ‘mobile’ sources of air pollution in our air basin in just a few short weeks, we can dramatically reduce air pollution and improve the quality of the air we breathe,” said Cacciotti. “This not only means we can have unprecedented views of our mountains and deep blue sky, but we can reduce the harmful impacts of air pollution on our most vulnerable populations, and improve everyone’s health. It means better days for the tens of thousands of children and adults in our air basin who suffer from respiratory illnesses such as asthma, COPD, etc. Moreover, because of the reduced emissions of nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, and diesel particulate matter from our cars, trucks, locomotives, airplanes, cargo ships, and off road construction equipment, it means less visits to the emergency room and hospitalizations for those with respiratory ailments. It also will allow older folks to live a longer and ‘quality-filled’ life, and reduce the number of premature deaths.”
The pandemic lock down by some estimates have taken about 80 percent of passenger cars off Los Angeles area roads, significantly reducing pollution levels that usually leave a haze over the region this time of year. While the virus has taken it toll with cases globally reaching more than three million, and 210,374 deaths, impacting the Unites States with close to a million cases and killing roughly 55,735, others have suggested it’s the hardest time for humans, but the happiest time for the planet.
Cacciotti is among those who have notice how cities like Los Angeles are getting cleaner as a result of coronavirus restrictions and hopes it can be maintained once the lockdowns have been lifted throughout the county. “The recent pandemic related reduction in Green House gases (GHG’s) around the globe demonstrates that human activity is really the major source and concern for the evolving Global climate change and crisis that most scientific research concludes and scientists warn is imminent, unless we, as a Global community act to reduce those emissions,” he said. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes the effect of climate change – global warming is projected to have negative consequences for human health. There are high risks for heat and ozone related morbidly and mortality, urban heat islands in cities, and risks from vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and Dengue fever are projected to increase.
It also demonstrates, according to Cacciotti, that transitioning to alternative sources of energy to power mobile sources, such as electric and hydrogen fuel cells, could also have a dramatic impact on reducing pollution in the Los Angeles basin and improving public health and the health of land and marine ecosystems.
Since cars, trucks and other vehicles contribute largely to pollution, Cacciotti likes the look of the situation now with improvement to air quality, but recognizes major changes must be made in order to continue the trend in the future.
“This presents an opportunity to re-examine our antiquated 5-day, 40-hour work week where employees report to the traditional 9-5 pm job, Monday thru Friday,” he explained. “As our LA County population has surpassed 10 million people and the State of California approaches 40 million residents, our morning and evening traffic commutes have contributed to unrelenting and smog induced traffic congestion and stress. It severely impacts families and individuals quality of life, and results in hundreds of hours wasted each year sitting in many gas guzzling, polluting vehicles on our congested freeways and city streets.”
Cities across the country are reporting air quality has improved as a result of traffic reduction. Cacciotti hopes, as a nation, a lesson can be learned as millions of Americans have worked from home during the pandemic, freeing up the roads, helping make the skies blue in a time when cars are vanishing from freeways.
“Based on the transition to substantially more employees demonstrating that telework can be successful, more employers in the private and public sector should revise their employment policies after the threat of the virus recedes” Cacciotti noted. “There should be more options for employees such as four day, 40 hour work weeks, options to work one or two days a week from home depending on the operational needs of the business or governmental entity. The benefits in stress reduction, reduced traffic congestion, improved air quality, job satisfaction, reduced health care costs, reduced hospital visits and improved quality of life would be profound.”
Air pollution has been linked to conditions like asthma and decreased lung function, which can put coronavirus patients at a higher risk for complications. Cacciotti recognizes people are struggling as they try to stave off the disease. “The connection between the Coronavirus and many suffering from preexisting health conditions such as moderate to severe asthma and decreased lung function again reminds us of the harmful impact of air pollution and its impact on human health,” he said. “Recent studies by health experts and scientists in Northern Italy have documented the transmission of the Coronavirus on particles of air pollution. The scientists have suggested that the higher levels of particulate matter in the air may explain why there were greater rates of infection in the Industrialized Northern area of Italy where the Coronavirus first hit and other industrial areas around the globe.”
Cacciotti insists, “We can all work together to reduce the harmful pollution and improve the air we and our pets breathe in our community our region, our nation and for Mother Earth. Each city, county, state, school district, faith community, mom and pop business and industry, every parent, child and individual can change their habits, practices and policies to do something to reduce harmful air pollution and protect our families and communities health. We can purchase cleaner electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and encourage our friends and family to do the same. We can demand our governments and school districts do the same. Why do local, state and federal governments and companies still purchase gas guzzling, polluting, vehicles that contribute to our multi billion dollar dependence on Foreign and domestic Oil? We know these polluting vehicles adversely affect our health and increase harmful air pollution in our local and Global communities. In our neighborhoods, our schools, playgrounds, athletic fields, cities and commercial gardeners still use polluting gas-powered lawn maintenance equipment, when cleaner, quieter and more inexpensive commercial grade electric lawn equipment is available?”
The South Pasadena City Councilman points out that the SCAQMD currently has an incentive program for government agencies, school districts and commercial gardeners to turn in their air and noise-polluting gas-powered lawn equipment and receive 75% off the purchase of a state-of-the-art electric replacement model, which “over the life of the equipment will not only reduce harmful pollutants, but save them hundreds of dollars in not having to buy gas and or oil,” he said. “We can walk or use our bikes for short trips around our neighborhoods to the bank, to church, or to ride to the Gold Line (light rail) or to a bus stop to go to work, a meeting or entertainment.”
As air pollution falls to unprecedented levels not only locally but worldwide during coronavirus lockdowns, Cacciotti can only hope it will affect change for people everywhere.
“Once we take the time to realize the impacts that our daily decisions and choices have on air pollution and the health of our families and the most vulnerable in our communities, hopefully this will transform our hearts and motivate each of us to be better stewards of ‘our common home’ and do at least one thing to reduce harmful air pollution and create a cleaner, healthier world for all creatures to live and enjoy,” he said.