Chapter 37
E N V I RO N M E N TA L
REALITIES

As hundreds of thousands of new residents continued to push into California, challenges to its infrastructure and environment grew especially urgent. These included overcrowded schools, hospitals, a freeway system in need of expansion, and severe water shortages. The state’s major cities were also plagued by a baffling problem, an unpleasant phenomenon called smog.

Smog is an acrid, unhealthy combination of smoke and fog. This haze not only irritates one’s eyes; it reduces visibility, affects crop yields, and discourages tourism. The Los Angeles Basin is especially afflicted by smog. In 1947, its Board of County Supervisors organized an Air Pollution Control District. One of the first such regulatory agencies in the entire country, the APCD spent millions of dollars trying to reduce the noxious emissions of automobile and factory fumes. A full ten years later, the APCD finally convinced the city of Los Angeles to ban backyard incinerators. But, until tighter state regulations allowed the APCD to override local officials, its ordinances could not be applied to the sixty-three municipalities surrounding Los Angeles. Today the APCD strictly corltrols industries that produce sulphurous petrochemicals. It is also empowered to call a series of alerts when the smog danger becomes especially critical.

Los Angeles sits in a saucer-like basin and suffers from the lowest average wind velocity of any major city in the United States. If the air could escape the surrounding rim of mountains, where the atmosphere grows cooler with altitude, the smog would not be so troublesome. But the hot, sunny days for which L.A. is known cause photochemical regrouping of exhaust-gas molecules. The airborne emissions that billow out of industrial smokestacks form a dense layer of smog that hangs over the area for long periods.

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