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LA Cars Are Burning Cleaner: Some Pollutants Down 98 Percent

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People who complain about the smog in LA are so stuck in the sixties (ok, not entirely, but hear this out). According to a new study released in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres titled "Multi-Year Trends in Volatile Organic Compounds in Los Angeles, California: Five Decades of Decreasing Emissions," levels of some vehicle-related air pollutants have decreased by 98 percent since the grooviest decade. The reductions come despite the fact that automobiles burn three times as much gasoline and diesel fuel in the basin than they did in the 1960s--the trick is that individual cars are burning cleaner than they used to. In further evidence of the positive influence of technology, much of that progress has been made recently. According to an article by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration summarizing the report: "Between 2002 and 2010 alone, the concentration of air pollutants called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) dropped by half." Moreover, cars are cleaner because of "Requirements for catalytic converters, use of reformulated fuels less prone to evaporate, and improved engine efficiency."

But before everybody scrambles to their fireplaces to light up Duraflame logs in celebration of the ultimate victory of federal and state clean air policies, there is still a lot of work to be done to reduce emissions of other kinds of pollutants: "A few specific VOCs, such as propane and ethane, did not drop as quickly ... one VOC, ethanol, is increasing in the atmosphere, consistent with its increasing use in transportation fuels."
· Multi-Year Trends in Volatile Organic Compounds in Los Angeles, California: Five Decades of Decreasing Emissions [Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres]
· NOAA, partners find 50-year decline in some Los Angeles vehicle-related pollutants [NOAA]