California Breathin’: Air Quality and Our Kids

School is over.  Progress reports are out and someone got a bad grade.  

In the latest report card released by UCLA, Los Angeles County received a “C” for air quality. Twenty years ago, this may have shocked no one. But in the last several decades, we’ve been told that our air quality was improving, as were our environmental policies. Twenty years ago, we may have taken a “C”, but when it comes to my kid’s lungs, it’s a failing grade.

I have had many roles in my life, but my most important role by far is mother to my two young children.  I spend many days dealing with the small yet exhausting battles of toddlerhood, but once my kids are asleep, I reward myself with a glass of wine, sit at my computer and catch up on emails and the news of the day. It’s supposed to be a time of relaxation, a reward. Though, once I read this shocking report, I decided I could no longer sit idly by.

Los Angeles has many environmental issues—drought, water quality, toxic chemicals, but the one thing that affects us all is air quality. The latest State of the Air report from the American Lung Association (2017) shows that the City of Angels has the worst ozone pollution in the nation.

Is this acceptable? As a result of the air pollution, asthma remains a problem as intractable as the brown-tinged air that some mornings, lingers over the San Fernando Valley. The most recent Los Angeles County Health Survey (2015) reports that approximately 1 in 13 children (aged 0-17) have asthma. African-American children are almost three times more likely to have asthma than any other group.  And while air pollution affects and should concern us all, this being America, those most exposed are low-income and minority neighborhoods, neighborhoods that lack equal representation when it comes to air quality.

While a recent long-term study out of USC shows an encouraging improvement in children’s lungs over the last several decades as result of changing environmental policies, this trend needs to continue; we must double-down on this effort because the study also shows that as pollution decreases, so to do health issues.  


Now we must turn our focus to our air’s greatest polluters: ports, industry and road traffic, especially diesel trucks.

Studies have shown that living near highways increases the risk of a variety of health problems, but did you know that air pollution is also associated with premature births? Talk about vulnerable – these babies face health problems before they are even born. Furthermore, increasing health risks, including more ER visits due to asthma, will result in higher medical bills and over the long term, rising health care costs, which will also affect us all.

In Los Angeles, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) is responsible for ensuring our air quality standards.  Several months ago, they adopted a $16 billion plan, part of which allows for “voluntary” standards for our ports and warehouses, ensuring less oversight over some of our greatest polluters.  We must hold this board accountable and demand stricter regulations. We must find ways to incentivize the trucking industry to dump their diesel gas-guzzlers and move toward hybrid technology.

We rely on government to ensure our safety and well-being, but they failed us when an industrial fire in Santa Fe Springs sent air quality levels plummeting to disastrous level and when an explosion occurred at an Exxon refinery in Torrance. Remember Aliso Canyon in Porter Ranch? There are countless examples.

Decades of environmental activism have built the current infrastructure to promote clean air in Los Angeles.  Today we need it more than ever and we must reinvest in it. The science is clear.

Tonight before my glass of wine, I will put my children to bed in a room with air purifiers, but I know that this is not an option for everyone. I want every child everywhere to breathe easy at night. Topanga residents have always been forward thinking when it comes to the environment, and this is no time to sit on the sideline. We must demand environmental justice for our hardest hit inland neighbors. Small changes can yield big results.

This may be no small battle, like the ones with my toddlers, but I for one, am ready for a fight. Are you?


South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) ( has information on the current air quality plans along with public programs, media inquiries, contacts and more. The board is comprised 13 members, 10 of whom are elected.  SCAQMD Headquarters:; (909) 396-2000; 21865 Copley Drive, Diamond Bar, CA 91765

L.A. County 3rd District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl is Topanga’s supervisor and an AQMD board member. Subscribe to her weekly newsletter, “Happenings”. Contact:; (213) 974-3333 District Office: Fiona Nagle (, District Director West Valley/Mountain Communities; (818) 880-9416; 26600 Agoura Rd., #100, Calabasas, CA 91302. Office Hours: Monday– Friday: 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Subscribe to her weekly newsletter, “Happenings”

State Senator Henry Stern (— sign up for his E-Newsletter to stay current on his environmental proposals.

State Assemblyman Richard Bloom (—His Senior Field Representative is Tim Pershing, a Topanga resident. (

Topanga Town Council—Contact the council and go to the once monthly meetings, resuming again in September. (

-Support local companies that are committed to green standards. Currently there are hundreds that have been certified by the city of Los Angeles. Check out to learn more.

-Reduce your own carbon footprint: eat locally, keep your tires inflated, avoid driving in traffic when possible, save errands for one trip, use energy efficient appliances at home, use renewable sources of energy whenever possible, recycle.


Alexandra Avnet is a freelance journalist and an MSW candidate at USC’s School of Social Work.  She grew up in Topanga Canyon.


By Alexandra Avnet


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