California air pollution ranks worst in nation due to wildfire smoke

California’s record wildfire season two years ago dished up some of the worst and most memorable air pollution in modern times – the smoke, the dark skies, the eerie orange glow of the sun.

But just how bad it was, and what the toll of the unhealthy air will be on people and communities, is a matter that’s still coming to light.

A new report finds that California was home to 19 of the 20 worst counties in the nation for particulate pollution in 2020. If sustained, these pollution levels could shave months, if not years, off the lives of residents, according to the Air Quality Life Index, published this month by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

Mariposa County, in the Sierra foothills, recorded the nation’s highest concentration of particulate matter, with the average life expectancy estimated to drop by 1.7 years if the pollutants persist.

The dangerous amounts of particulate matter, essentially the tiny liquid and solid particles in bad air, underscore the health risk that wildfire smoke poses. It’s an issue that surfaced again during last year’s big fires and could very well return this year as many predict another difficult fire season ahead.

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