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The California Air Resources Board says air pollution claims 5,000 premature deaths each year in Southern California.

That’s a big number that does’t garner the attention it deserves. Consider an equivalent scenario – what if a plane crashed in L.A. every month, killing all onboard? The numbers would work out the same, but the outcry would be immensely different.

Many long-term Angelenos will be happy to tell you of the smoggy skies in the 1960s and 70s and it’s true – Los Angeles has made great strides in reducing ozone in our atmosphere. But maybe in retrospect, it looks easy. Today we know so much more about the contaminants in our air – they’re invisible and just as dangerous to public health – particulate matter, often abbreviated as PM2.5.

Much of urban air pollution comes from industrial sources; in L.A. it’s the Port of Los Angeles. Soot from diesel trucks and automobiles is the number one source in many cities. The single family car with a sole occupant is the mainstay of Orange County commuting; it’s going to take a generation or two to clean up these transportation pollution sources.

[blockquote size=”full” align=”right” byline=”California Air Resources Board”]Approximately 5,000 premature deaths annually in Southern California are due to air pollution[/blockquote]There’s a pollution source that’s more like low-hanging fruit in many cities – particulate matter from wood burning.

Addressing this problem requires political will because too many people just don’t know the connection between that cozy wood fire and the hazardous impact of neighborhood health. Some claim they burn wood because it’s a cheap source of heat, but as is often the case, the complete cost is ignored – the health care costs. In many cities wood burning pizza ovens pollute 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, often tucked in tight into residential neighborhoods. No one bats an eye. It’s as if the world has gone mad for wood burning. Big box stores offer cheap backyard fire pits. People flock to the beach to burn all night long.

It’s not sustainable. The future of urban life, a healthy future, requires us to change a few habits, to become more aware of how we pollute on a local level.

It’s what we’re all about.

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