Pollution Costs California Hospitals Millions of Dollars

Air pollution in Central and Southern California cost area hospitals $193 million from 2005 to 2007, according to a study by Rand Corp. The study documented 29,808 emergency room visits and hospital admissions in the South Coast Air Basin and the San Joaquin Valley for problems related to pollution. Both air basins are the worst in the U.S. Three-quarters of the health problems analyzed stemmed from high levels of fine particulate pollution (PM2.5). The other one-quarter of health problems analyzed stemmed from ozone, the main ingredient in smog. Ozone is created by noxious fumes from automobiles and factories.

The study stated that annual savings from meeting state and federal air standards “would be sufficient to pay for pediatric influenza vaccinations for 85% of California’s under-15 population.” Medicare spent $103,600,000 on air pollution–related hospital care during 2005–2007, according to the study.  Medicaid, Medi-Cal in California, spent $27,292,199, while private health insurers spent about $55,879,780. If state clean air standards had been met, hospital spending would have been $204 million less. Spending on hospital admissions would have decreased by $27,000,000 million if federal clean air standards had been met.

The study also looked at the impact of air pollution on five specific hospitals in the South Coast Air Basin, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Sacramento area:

  • Riverside Community Hospital (South Coast Air Basin): 329 hospital admissions and emergency room visits would have been prevented if federal standards for PM2.5 and ozone been met during 2005 to 2007. Overall spending would have been reduced by $2,015,880.
  • St. Agnes Medical Center (Fresno): 384 hospital admissions and emergency room visits would have been prevented, and $2,976,936 saved.
  • St. Francis Medical Center (Lynnwood, south of Los Angeles): 295 hospital admissions and emergency room visits would have been prevented, and $1,220,595 saved.
  • Stanford University Hospital: 30 hospital admissions and emergency room visits would have been prevented, and $534,855 saved.
  • UC Davis Medical Center (Sacramento): 182 hospital admissions and emergency room visits would have been prevented, and $1,882,412 saved.

“It shows that the major stakeholders in the California health care system are paying millions and millions of dollars due to the failure to meet federal clean air standards,” said John Romley, lead author of the study and an economist at Rand. Romley added, “These costs may not be the largest problem caused by dirty air, but our study provides more evidence about the impact that air pollution has on the state’s economy.”

“The people who espouse the idea that we should stop working on anything involving regulations of fuel because doing so would cost money should think about the cost of not doing anything,” said Mary Nichols, chairperson of the California Air Resources Board. “The fact that we’re paying for all these hospital and emergency room visits is sobering.”

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

14 responses

  1. I hope a middle-ground, all-of-the-above, approach is adopted nationally. This should include nuclear, but not at the detriment of other power sources. However, I do hope that coal powered plants can be phased out. If you like coal, then move next to a power plant or cola mine. Along these lines, much work is needed to make nuclear waste, and proliferation, secure and safe.

    Regarding solar, it represents a small fraction of our energy production today, but seems very viable. There are about 120 million single-family housing units in the US and there are only about 500,000 homes with rooftop or ground mount systems today. These homes enjoy a $0 or very low electric bill. Therefore, as thel solar market grows, its share of energy production will grow.

    In addition, there will be commercial solar installations, e.g. walmart roofs, and centralized utility installations. A good analogy for the future of solar power is the network that makes up the world wide interweb. There will be commercial power hubs (corporate data centers), utility power hubs (ISPs) and residential power hubs (your computer). These are connected by high-speed cable and fiber-optic lines (the grid), to produce plenty of power for most everyone.

    To do something about this today, visit http://freecleansolar.com or http://www.solarpanelsonline.org. You'll save money and help solve our energy challenges.

  2. Money available to improve Smog Check

    Charlie Peters, Clean Air Performance Professionals, March 22, 2010

    The Smog Check issue has been under continuous legislative debate since 1993. AB 2289 by Eng is an opportunity to improve program performance and public support.

    We at the Clean Air Performance Professionals propose “reasonably available control measures” to improve California Smog Check performance. Consider a Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) quality audit to improve smog check performance.

    We propose using the CAP cars and funds to provide a random quality audit (or secret shopper) of smog check providers. Audits that result in the car’s not being in compliance should be handled similarly to the former Consumer Repair and Education Workforce program. The Bureau of Automotive Repair program did not fine the licensees nor did it involve coercion. But when the question of “what would you like to do?” was asked, the shop took care of business and usually elected to fix the car.

    The average smog check failure repair is about $ 150.00 state wide. The motorist pays about the same at the average repair station and the CAP station. The average CAP repair is about $350.00. Many cars are not brought into compliance.

    To level the smog check failure repair playing field so more cars meet standards after repair, the whole smog check market should be subject to a CAP random audit.

    Around 1985, BAR started a “missing part” audit. In 1991 that program was stopped, The difference was a 300 percent change in result in finding the missing part.

    When BAR ran less than one audit per station per year, the result was a change in behavior that started at more than an 80 percent rate, but moved to less than 20 percent rate of noncompliance.

    The difference was a 300 percent change in result in finding the missing part. If the CAP audit was addressing the issue of repair compliance rather than just finding a missing part, the results may be the same or a 300 percent improvement in compliance. With the missing part program, a follow-up audit with increasing demands lift the stations no options but to find the missing part or be removed from the game.

    There are huge inconsistencies from Smog Check station to station and with BAR representatives. For BAR to decide a car is not in compliance, rules of Smog Check must be clarified. Money is available for the CAP program. It can be used for contracted scrap and repairs, or some of the funds can be used to evaluate and support improved performance of licensed small business. The cars and funds are the same, but the results may be credit for 2,000 tons per day in pollution prevention credit in the State Implementation Plan, rather than our current credit of fewer than 400 tons per day.

    The governor and state Legislature would get the credit for improved performance. Performance improvements would be accomplished at a cost of less than $500.00 per ton. And program illusions would be reduced in 1 year.

    Charlie Peters is president of Clean Air Performance Professionals.

    CAPP contact: Charlie Peters (510) 537-1796 cappcharlie@earthlink.net

  3. California Smog Check providers fail millions of cars but Chief Sherry Mehl, DCA/BAR, has never found out if what is broken on a Smog Check failed car gets fixed.

    1. If an elected official would request a copy of the Sierra Research SR 2007-04-01 report and all communication about the report from CCEEB, CED, CARB, DCA/BAR, IMRC, Parsons & Sierra Research it might help improve performance of Smog Check….

      CAPP contact: Charlie Peters (510) 537-1796 cappcharlie@earthlink.net

  4. Federal ethanol policy increases Government motors oil use and Big
    oil profit.

    It is reported that today California is using Brazil sugar cane
    ethanol at $0.16 per gal increase over using GMO corn fuel ethanol. In this
    game the cars and trucks get to pay and Big oil profits are the result that may
    be ready for change.

    We do NOT support AB 523 or SB 1396 unless the ethanol mandate is
    changed to voluntary ethanol in our gas.

    Folks that pay more at the
    pump for less from Cars, trucks, food, water & air need better, it is time.

    The car tax of AB 118 Nunez is just a simple Big oil welfare
    program, AAA questioned the policy and some folks still agree.

    AB 523 & SB 1326 are just a short put (waiver) from better

    GOOGLE:  Prop 87 (510)

  5. BP fuel ethanol affect the beef?

    Officials know that ethanol is carcinogenic. Should the attorney general request a conversation with EPA about a waiver of the “Wallet Flushing” ethanol mandate?

Leave a Reply