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Kids Face Danger in the Air

September 10, 2004

Everyone knows smog makes breathing harder. But the findings by USC researchers published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine showed it can also impair children's lungs for life. Air pollution -- specifically, particulates -- doesn't just make ailments worse, it can create them. A child who grows up in Upland, for example, stands a nearly 10% chance of growing up with weak lungs, making him or her prone to respiratory problems, cardiopulmonary disease and even premature death.

Particulates -- microscopic particles in the air typically caused by diesel exhaust, dust and fumes from animal waste -- have only recently received serious regulatory attention.

The new findings should have politicians jumping into action. A good place to start would be for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign AB 2042, the port pollution bill. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach account for nearly a quarter of the particulate pollution in the region, and there are plans to expand them. The modest legislation of Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) would cap port pollution at 2004 levels.

The Bush administration, in probably its strongest environmental initiative so far, announced new regulations this year requiring cleaner fuel and cleaner engines for off-road diesel vehicles such as construction equipment. Diesel emissions are the major source of particulate pollution in the L.A. area, and the new regulations will make a real difference.

But the administration has seriously undercut some of California's efforts to control smog. When Southland air regulators tried to force private vehicle fleets to replace worn-out diesel engines with cleaner-burning ones, the administration sided with engine makers and oil companies in court, killing the regulations. The administration also rejected any move to require environmental reviews before allowing Mexican diesel trucks, which tend to be older and dirtier, to travel on U.S. roads. And the Environmental Protection Agency has made it easier for coal plants -- a major source of particulates -- to avoid installing new pollution equipment when they renovate.

Credit California policymakers for moving forward anyway. The California Air Resources Board this summer passed a regulation limiting the time diesel trucks can idle. Schwarzenegger helped put together a deal to raise money to help companies switch to cleaner-burning engines, and he is expected to sign the enabling legislation. Another bill on his desk, AB 1009 by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), would require Mexican trucks entering California to meet smog standards. It too deserves the governor's signature.

If Washington doesn't want to help, at least it might do California kids the favor of staying out of the state's way.

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