San Diego County air quality improving, says research group Equinox Center

County had only 13 unhealthy days

SAN DIEGO - While the air quality is reaching dangerous levels in China, new numbers obtained by 10News show a far different story in San Diego. According to the research group Equinox Center, a story of significant improvement in air quality is emerging.

Four years ago, Dawn Sims moved her family from Los Angeles to San Diego for a breath of fresh air.

"I can now go for runs," said Sims. "The air quality is wonderful, especially from what I'm used to."

Sims is not the only one breathing easier. In the latest numbers crunched by the Equinox Center, during 2011, the county had only 13 days deemed by the Environmental Protection Agency to be unhealthy for older adults and children. That is a drop from 50 days almost a decade earlier, which is an improvement of 74 percent.

"We have more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, less pollutants… might also be due to fewer cars on the road due to the recession," said Anne Tartre, the executive director of the Equinox Center.

Another factor is that the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority and the Port of San Diego made major facility improvements to reduce emissions.

"It means our quality of life is better," said Tartre. "We have less public health costs."

So how does San Diego compare to its neighbors? While San Diego had 13 unhealthy days, Los Angeles had 94. Riverside had 122.

Although San Diego County is in good shape overall, there are pockets of concern. One way to measure air quality is children's asthma hospitalization rates. The zip codes with the largest hospitalization rates include many of the areas bordering Interstate 805.

"You often have worse air quality in areas where there is congestion or more traffic and highways," said Tartre. "Cars are idling in traffic and also near heavy industry."

The question in the air is will there be more of those areas of concern in the next two decades when the region's population is expected to grow by 650,000.

10News has partnered up with the Equinox Center to look at quality of life issues.

To see how your zip code fared in terms of air quality, visit EquinoxCenter.org.

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