What Are Emissions & How Are They Harmful?


The basic goal of the Smog Check program in California is to make sure that emissions from vehicles are at acceptable levels. Emissions are simply the chemicals and vapors released from an exhaust system, and they are recorded either as average or too high according to Smog Check standards. If a vehicle has a malfunction in the emission control system, the Smog Check is designed to catch the problem before it can persist for too long. You want your car to emit as few dangerous pollutants as possible, and save money by not wasting gas. Half of all smog is caused by car pollution.

The Smog Check will catch problems with three types of toxic pollutants: hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and oxides of nitrogen. Hydrocarbons result from unburned gas and cause eye and lung irritation, and carbon monoxide results from partially burned fuel and can be lethal at high levels. Oxides of nitrogen are the result of combustion heat and cause ozone or smog. All of these chemicals wreak havoc on human and animal health as well as crop production.

Vehicle emissions are California’s main source of air pollution, and many residents are investing in alternative vehicles. But with 25 million vehicles registered in California, controlling pollution is a mammoth task. Catalytic converters have literally saved the country from a thick blanket of smog, and on the plus side, ozone levels have declined sharply in Los Angeles over the past decade. But any smog is too much smog.

There is always room for more work to be done, as scientists attribute more and more respiratory diseases to air pollution in general. The Air Resource Board in California has worked to create more stringent standards for buses and big rigs. The Low Emission Vehicle II regulation that was effectuated in 2004 is expected to decrease nitrogen oxides by 75 percent and hydrocarbon emissions by half. Sport utility vehicles and trucks have been forced to decrease emissions to the same level as that of cars.

Because necessity is the mother of invention, California has been forced to push for lower and lower emissions because of the extreme past levels of smog it has faced. Back in 1977, Los Angeles had 121 days of Stage One smog alerts during the year. With reductions in emissions, L.A. had only 66 Stage One alerts in 1987, and now there have been no Stage One alerts at all in L.A. since 1997. There still have been Stage Two alerts, however.

California will push until vehicles have zero emissions, and will be a model for what is possible.

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