To assess accountability and effectiveness of air regulatory policies, we reviewed more than 20 years of monitoring data, emissions estimates, and regulatory policies across several southern California communities participating in a long-term study of children's health. Between 1994 and 2011, air quality improved for NO2 and PM2.5 in virtually all the monitored communities. Average NO2 declined 28% to 53%, and PM2.5 decreased 13% to 54%. Year-to-year PM2.5 variability at lower pollution sites was large compared to changes in long-term trends. PM10 and O3 decreases were largest in communities that were initially among the most polluted. Trends in annual average NO2, PM2.5, and PM10 concentrations in higher pollution communities were generally consistent with NOx, ROG, SOx, PM2.5, and PM10 emissions decreases. Reductions observed at one of the higher PM2.5 sites, Mira Loma, were generally within the range expected from reductions observed in ROG, NOx, SOx, and PM2.5 emissions. Despite a 38% increase in regional motor vehicle activity, vigorous economic growth, and a 30% population increase, total estimated emissions of NOx, ROG, SOx, PM2.5, and PM10 decreased by 54%, 65%, 40%, 21%, and 15%, respectively, during the 20-year time period. Emission control strategies in California have achieved dramatic reductions in ambient NO2, O3, PM2.5, and PM10. However, additional reductions will still be needed to achieve current health-based clean air standards.
Implications: For many cities facing the challenge of reducing air pollution to meet health-based standards, the emission control policies and pollution reduction programs adopted in southern California should serve as an example of the potential success of aggressive, comprehensive, and integrated approaches. Policies targeting on-road mobile emissions were the single most important element for observed improvements in the Los Angeles region. However, overall program success was the result of a much broader approach designed to achieve emission reductions across all major pollutants and emissions categories.