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Air pollution from cars and trucks in Los Angeles costs roughly $1.8 billion a year in public health costs, according to a report released Tuesday by a national transportation reform group. Public health officials said the price tag isn't surprising considering the number of emergency room visits, hospital stays and deaths associated with the pollutants pouring out of tailpipes.
``Millions come to the emergency department because of asthma and other respiratory problems. We are facing a public health epidemic because the number of Americans with asthma continues to rise,'' said Dr. Carlos Camargo, an asthma researcher and member of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Camargo was one of several medical specialists who spoke at a news conference, calling for federal officials to allocate more funding for public transit, bikeways and pedestrian projects to get people out of cars and reduce the symptoms of transportation-created pollution.
``Think of it conceptually as a public health investment, not just transportation investment, and act accordingly,'' said Howard Frumkin, associate professor at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health and a member of American Public Health Association.
The report, called Clearing the Air, was produced by the Surface Transportation Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation reform group. The goal of the report is to draw a link between air pollution generated from vehicle travel and the public health cost of living with dirty air.
Nationwide, childhood asthma rates have doubled in the last two decades and the public health cost of pollution from cars and trucks is estimated to be $40 billion to $65 billion a year, according to the report.
The cost figures are based on Federal Highway Administration estimates that the public health cost of premature death and illness caused by pollution cars and trucks equaled about $0.0175 per mile driven in urban areas.
In Los Angeles, nearly 2 million tons, or 57 percent, of all smog-forming particulate matter and carbon monoxide pollutants comes from transportation. In Ventura, more than 150,000 tons, or 42 percent, of pollutants come from transportation.
With new technology and new requirements, vehicles have gotten 90 percent cleaner over the last three decades, but report authors said the improvements have been undermined as the number of miles most Americans drive these days has tripled.
There are more cost-effective ways to cut pollution from vehicles, Schwartz said, including better smog check programs and scrapping older, polluting cars.
``Efforts to get people out of their cars tend not to work because cars are the most flexible way to get around,'' he added.
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c.2003 Los Angeles Daily News