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It’s Official: Greener Cars Have Helped Improve LA’s Air Quality

 
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Chrome exhaust pipe

Chrome exhaust pipe

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Given the length of time the U.S. Government is taking to set new gas mileage standards for 2025, you’d be forgiven for thinking the only benefit from driving a high gas-mileage car is the savings you make at the pump.

You’d be wrong.

Driving high gas mileage cars equates to lower tailpipe emissions, less air pollution, and a healthier population

And now there’s data to prove it. 

According to the latest study from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) -- (via TreeHugger) -- air pollution from car exhausts is down by 98 percent compared to the 1960s.

Los Angeles Smog

Los Angeles Smog

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Although gasoline use in LA is almost triple that of what it was in the 1960s, the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air has dropped from around 100 parts per billion to just 2 parts per billion. 

Between 2002 and 2010 alone, the amount of VOCs in the air of LA halved. 

Of course, VOCs aren’t the only pollution to come from an exhaust.

As the study points out, however, VOCs are a major cause of ground-level ozone, which not only causes smog, but can cause respiratory diseases. 

Since its enactment in 1963, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act, and its various amendments, has tackled air quality, legislating on emissions from everything from factories to airplanes and the automotive industry.

From 1975, for example, it mandated every new car sold in the U.S. have a catalytic converter, designed to improve car emissions. 

As data from the NOAA attests, the period between the mid 1970s and early 1980s saw a steady, marked drop in VOCs measured in the air of Los Angeles. 

Of course, California doesn’t just have the EPA to thank for an improvement in air quality. 

LA air pollution study

LA air pollution study

Enlarge Photo

The Californian Air Resources Board, set up in the late 1960s, has played a large part in improving Los Angeles’ air quality, through the implementation of even tougher air quality standards. 

Among them, stricter emissions targets for automakers, and mandates that mean automaker who want to sell cars in the state have to produce a specific percentage of low and zero-emission cars. 

The results are clear to see. 

“Requirements for catalytic converters, use of reformed fuels less prone to evaporate, and improved engine efficiency of new vehicles have all likely contributed to overall declines in vehicle-related pollution, including VOCs,” the NOAA says in its study. 

There’s more good news too. 

Even though the number of cars in Los Angeles continues to climb, perpetuating the city’s image as one of the most congested places in the U.S., gasoline use in LA has started to fall, after hitting a peak around 2008.

That’s a clear indicator that people are driving less, and buying the cleanest, most efficient cars ever. 

So next time you look at a new car remember this: the higher your car’s gas mileage, and the lower its tailpipe emissions, the more easily you -- and your family -- will be able to breathe. 

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Comments (15)
  1. Nice article and great to see the benefits of CARB's and EPA's efforts finally paying off.

    I was surprised to learn that a lot of VOCs come directly from our gas tanks. The Prius uses a special tank (CARB mandated for PZEV I believe) to reduce VOC emissions. The tank has a flexible bladder to reduce vapor emissions when the gas cap is opened.
     
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  2. John V. just did a story on Aug 6th regarding the Port of LA Shipping channels producing far less emissions as well. It sounds like LA area is actually getting cleaner for many reasons. Good stuff. I would actually think the shipping changes have helped more than autos - pair that with the 2008-09 recession and job changes, etc - all adds up to lower emissions.
     
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  3. I'M GLAD LA'S SMOG IS LOWER. IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA SHOULD BE SETTING ITS POLLUTION STANDARDS AND SOLVING ITS OWN POLLUTION PROBLEMS. I FIND THAT MAKING THE WHOLE COUNTRY PAY MORE FOR GREEN SOURCES OF ENERGY,BECAUSE OF CITIES LIKE LOS ANGELES, IS A BIT OF AN UNFAIR BURDEN. I FEEL THE LIBERAL STATES AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ARE WORKING TOGETHER AT THE DETREMENT OF THE BALANCE OF OUR STATES.
     
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  4. Your Caps Lock key stuck. Please turn the all caps off before you post. If you don't know how to use your keyboard, please refrain yourself from posting again.
     
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  5. Seems like you've inhaling a bit too much gas fumes from your gasser.
     
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  6. Actually, CA does set the standards for all of North America. Auto makers DO NOT import any cars to Canada, Mexico, or the United States that cannot be sold in CA. I tried to circumvent US laws by using NAFTA to buy a car in Canada and bring it back to the states. The Canadian dealer told me that no car gets imported to North America that cannot be sold in California. CARB sux!! They dictate to the rest of us as to what we can and can't buy.
     
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  7. Not exactly... it most likely contributed as stated and the super majority of that comes from efforts that predate the zero-emissions mandate. The largest contributor for autos has been the catalytic converter. High-mileage vehicles weren't on the radar at the time.

    "That’s a clear indicator that people are driving less, and buying the cleanest, most efficient cars ever."

    Really? It couldn't mean they have opted for other modes of transportation as well, such as carpooling and buses?

    In regards to being "official", this was stated 20 years ago. A bit late of an assessment isn't it?

    Peace
     
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  8. In Australia, someone suggested to the EPA that CARB standards should be applied to industrial engines and lawn mower engines. I reckon that is great idea, but I doubt the EPA will implement it in Australia.
     
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  9. Hydrocarbon plus O2 plus heat = H2O and CO2. All new cars, hybrid or not, adhere to this law of chemistry. Bad gas mileage means more water and CO2 are made. Gas mileage has nothing to do with pollution. Pollution has EVERYTHING to do with the age and condition of the vehicle. Stricter emission regulations do nothing when run-down Impalas from the 1960s are allowed to be used on public roads. If CA really wanted to solve pollution, they would start salting the roads. Old, polluting cars would rust away. No more old cars means clean air.
     
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  10. That is why new rule in the Port of LA don't have a grandfather clause. If you want to enter the port, you have to have a clean diesel truck.
     
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  11. A simpler way to remove the older vehicle from the road is by increasing registration cost each time it is in service...
     
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  12. It is interesting that air polution was starting to be reduced before the clean air act went into effect!
     
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  13. @Joe: Yes, because California started to take action on its chronic LA smog problem well before the Clean Air Act applying to the country as a while even existed.

    California identified the primary cause of smog as vehicular transport in the late 1940s. See here for more details:
    http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1070823_a-brief-history-of-smog-which-led-to-electric-cars-recommended-reading
     
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  14. Uhhh... that doesn't address his statement: the link lacks "the details". [not to mention a misprint]

    Peace
     
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  15. By golly it's true! Partisan bias does affect reading comprehension and critical thing skills. And all along I thought my old college professor was just exaggerating.
     
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