News Release (21 Apr 2005)

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, April 21, 2005

OAKLAND, April 21 - Smog costs Californians more than $521 million a year - a price paid in hundreds of trips to the emergency room, thousands of hospital admissions and millions of missed school days. But much of the cost would be saved by cutting smog levels to the tougher standards the state Air Resources Board (ARB) will consider next week.

In a report released today, Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed data from ARB scientists to produce estimates of the costs of smog for each county in the state. EWG also took data from official state smog monitors near 12,000 California schools to create a searchable online report card of air quality based on pollution levels and the number of days schools are advised to restrict children's outdoor activity. Parents can compare the air quality at their child's school with others in the county or state.


The report and school report cards are available at


Smog is primarily caused by ozone air pollution, and California has seven of the nation's ten cities with the worst ozone levels. High levels of ozone irritate lung passages, causing coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Children, people with asthma and other respiratory diseases are particularly affected.


When smog levels peak, the state advises schools to keep children from playing outdoors. EWG found that from 2000 to 2003, approximately 2,800 California schools serving 1.7 million students experienced ozone levels high enough to trigger an outdoor activity warning on at least one occasion. The hardest-hit schools, attended by more than 300,000 students, had on average levels high enough to trigger five or more outdoor activity warnings each year.


"Keeping our kids indoors on bad air days is a wise precaution, but it's not a workable long-term solution to protect their health," said EWG Analyst Sonya Lunder, author of the report. "Educators and parents must make smart choices about kids' activity on severe pollution days, but the state must do its part by adopting tougher standards and making it a top priority to continue reducing smog."


The ARB meets Thursday, April 28 in El Monte to consider recommendations from state scientists for adopting tougher ozone standards. The scientists' recommendations, mandated by state law requiring that air pollution standards are tough enough to protect children, were based on hundreds of studies linking smog to asthma and other respiratory illnesses. The report goes beyond their findings to show how smog hurts Californians' health, their schools and their pocketbooks:

  • EWG calculated, by county, the number of school absences due to smog-related health problems and the economic loss to schools and families from lower attendance. In the 12 smoggiest counties, about 2.9 million school absences a year are caused by smog-related health problems.
  • EWG estimated the health care costs in each county of treating asthma and other smog-related health problems. In the five-county Los Angeles metro area alone, the total is more than $300 million a year.

"Three years ago, the ARB adopted the most protective standards in the world for airborne soot and dust, or particulate matter," said Lunder. "Now it's time to take a stand on the other major kind of air pollution, smog. Cleaner air will not only help us breathe easier, but produce real economic benefits."


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The Environmental Working Group and Environmental Working Group Action Fund are nonprofits that use the power of information to protect public health and the environment.