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Real problems, real solutions: examining pollution in Los Angeles County

February 27, 2019

Categories: Blog

Published: February 27, 2019

In this running series, we examine how the concepts of community psychology can positively impact our world. We have identified a range of key issues that affect many of us and will analyze how communities around America have worked to address them.

Location: Los Angeles County


Timeline: Ongoing


Affected Population: African American, Latinx, and Asian residents in Los Angeles County


Key Players: Los Angeles County; Union of Concerned Scientists; Los Angeles County Department of Public Health; California Environmental Protection Agency; California Department of Public Health


The Problem:

Transportation is the leading cause of California’s carbon dioxide emissions, contributing up to 40 percent of the state’s total emissions, and since 2013 California’s tailpipe pollution has risen 5 percent.

This increase is especially noticeable in Los Angeles County, which is known for its long commutes, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and car culture. Residents of L.A. County are exposed to 60 percent more vehicle pollution than the state average.

Tailpipe pollution is the main creator of PM2.5, a specific air pollutant that is responsible for the majority of public health implications from air pollution such as

  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Asthma
  • Lung cancer

The Union of Concerned Scientists published a February 2019 study that illustrated how African American, Latinx, and Asian residents in L.A. County are more likely than white residents to be exposed to PM2.5 pollution from cars, trucks, and buses. Because white residents tend to live in areas where air pollution is lower (i.e. away from major roads or industrial plants, etc.), PM2.5 concentrations disproportionately affect communities of color.


The Solution:

According to the study’s author, David Reichmuth from the Union of Concerned Scientists, “There are a lot of people in California that are exposed to this pollution, but the inequities we found by race and by income for this particular pollutant and from this particular source [is] just one part of the potential inequities …We should be doing things that reduce these inequities. We have a moral obligation to do that.”

To decrease PM2.5 in the atmosphere, tailpipe emissions must be reduced on a mass scale. Battery-electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles do not produce any tailpipe emissions. And clean vehicle subsidies and low-income clean vehicle rebates can help encourage drivers to make the switch.

State regulations and incentives for clean vehicles and public transportation are also incredibly important.


The Role of Community Psychology:

Clearly, air pollution in L.A. County isn’t just an environmental issue. It’s a community issue—specifically in communities of color. The study by the Union of Concerned Scientists illuminates an issue that many L.A. County residents have known for years—areas with more pollution are less expensive to live in, so more lower-income communities and communities with people of color tend to live there.

That’s where community psychology comes in.

Having clean air to breathe is essential to living a healthy life,” says Bree Cook, Psy.D., the vice president of academic affairs at Pacific Oaks. “Community Psychologists can help empower communities to fight for the clean air they deserve, that we all deserve.”

Community psychology focuses on how social, cultural, and political factors affect groups of people. The study above doesn’t just show that pollution is bad and affects populations equally. Instead, it shows how urban planning, state regulations, economics, and other factors have led to this outcome while also using research to support potential solutions for it.


The Results:

Due to increased awareness of California’s air pollution issues, several pieces of legislation are in the works.

For example, Los Angeles is considering charging drivers for driving during rush hour in an effort to encourage ridesharing and public transportation; funds from this fee would go toward making L.A. public transportation free.

Additionally, other ideas that have been proposed include lower-cost housing in urban areas to decrease the length of commutes—and the resulting pollution—and increasing the number of safety lanes to promote alternate modes of transportation, such as scooters and bikes.

If you are interested in learning more about community psychology, read our informational guide to community psychology. Pacific Oaks also offers community psychology degree programs for those seeking an even greater understanding of the field and how it can lead to a career. Fill out the form below to request more information or visit our community psychology program page.


Categories: Blog

For questions or comments on our news stories or releases, or if you are a reporter who would like to speak with an expert in education, human development, or marriage and family therapy, please contact Johanna Atienza at [email protected] or 626.529.8092.