Severity of the Problem: Smog

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Smog can be made of different components depending on the anthropogenic activities that contribute to its development in any given area. Californias smog is mainly contributed by high motor vehicle emission in various counties like Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino. Los Angeles in particular is famous for its extensive smog that covers most of the county and adjacent areas in the South Coast Air Basin in California. The smog problem in the larger California is very severe as depicted by its myriad adverse effects on plants, buildings, rubber and most importantly human health. According to a study published in NBC News on 29th April, 2004, Los Angeles Beach area was the most Ozone polluted region in the US. Other counties in California located outside South Coast Air Basin like Bakersfield and Visalia were also reported to contain high levels of smog in the atmosphere. According to the report, 4 out of the 5 top polluted counties in the country are in California. The report also indicated that 8 out of 10 people in California live in smog polluted area. The report said that Los Angeles pollution comes mainly from highway traffic, diesel trucks and farm equipment. When ranked according to the total atmospheric particulate matter composition, Californias Riverside County was found to have the worst levels nationally. 34 out of 58 counties in California failed all the three pollution tests used to measure pollution levels in the atmosphere (Msnbc, 2004).

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Lichen communitys composition is a reliable bio indicator for smog concentration in California. Nitrogen and Sulfur compounds make a significant percentage of smog in any given place. When probed for Lichen community composition, Californias Central valley was found to have very low concentration of Sulfur and Nitrogen intolerant lichen communities. At the same time, this area had very high concentration of Nitrogen and Sulfur tolerant lichen community. The trend of both types of lichen communities was consistent with the level of atmospheric Nitrogen and Sulfur. Additionally, all the lichen communities sampled from areas surrounding the Central Valley were found to have high concentrations of Sulfur and Nitrogen (Jovan, 2008). Other indicators of smog problem include the high medical cost incurred by the California state government. There are many people of all ages suffering from different heart, nervous and respiratory problems, meaning that the government spends a lot of money per year offering general and specialist medical care for these patients (Msnbc, 2004).

These indicators are adequately convincing when used as measures of the severity of smog problem in California. Nitrogen is a primary component of smog. It is also the precursor of secondary pollutants that comprise the smog such as NH4+, NO3-, and HNO3. Lichens have been shown to be very sensitive to Nitrogen (Geiser & Neitlich, 2007). They also show significant ability to absorb nitrogen dissolved in smog. Different lichen families respond differently to Nitrogen composition in the atmosphere. The trend in lichen family composition in different areas of California is therefore a reliable indicator of smog menace in California. Acidophytic lichen population in Californias Central Valley is high, meaning that there is high a concentration of Sulfur and Nitrogen derived acids in the atmosphere (Geiser & Neitlich, 2007). The high medical costs and prevalence of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases in California indicates that there is a pertinent underlying issue in the state (Msnbc, 2004).


Geiser, L.H. and P.N. Neitlich. 2007. Air pollution and climate gradients in western Oregon and Washington indicated by epiphytic macro lichens. Environmental Pollution 145: 203-218.

Jovan, S. (2008). Lichen bio indication of biodiversity, air quality, and climate: baseline results from monitoring in Washington, Oregon, and California.

Msnbc (2004). Most Americana Live in Bad Smog Areas. Available at

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