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A view of downtown Los Angeles is seen on a smoggy afternoon. Due to the city's heavy reliance on automobiles, smog regularly envelops the region.GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images
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Flames burn structures and vehicles as the Blue Cut wildfire rages near Cajon Pass, north of San Bernardino, on August 16, 2016.
RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images
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A storm run off drain in San Diego. Storm runoff collects nitrates as it runs off building roofs and through streets. These are deposited into waterways, where the pollutants pose a danger to those around it. keoni101/Flickr
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The sun rises over an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation, where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — is on the rise.David McNew/Getty Images
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Tires pollute San Francisco Bay.
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Downtown high-rises are shown cloaked in dirty air shortly after sunrise. Although air quality in Los Angeles has improved in recent decades, smog levels remain among the nation's worst. David McNew/Getty Images
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Birds wade among the rubbish where the concrete-lined section of the San Gabriel River ends.
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Officers from the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) set up a restricted area at Refugio State Beach, where over 140,000 gallons of oil were spilled in 2015. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
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Oil surrounds the feet of local resident Morgan Miller as he patrols the beach for oiled wildlife north of Goleta. David McNew/Getty Images
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An oil-soaked bird is washed at the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care Center. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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An oil-covered lobster lies dead on the beach after the Refugio beach oil spill.David McNew/Getty Images
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An crab lies dead on an oil-covered beach. David McNew/Getty Images
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Evidence of the oil slick is visible on the surface of the Pacific Ocean. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Officials walk along the oil-soaked beach. David McNew/Getty Images
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A crew cleans oil from Refugio beach. The largest oil spill ever in U.S. waters at the time occurred in the same section of the coast in 1969, giving birth to the modern American environmental movement. David McNew/Getty Images
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Oil flows toward the ocean from inland. David McNew/Getty Images
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Workers continue to clean oil from the rocks and beach. The oil company behind the crude spill on the California coast vowed to do the "right thing" to clear up the mess, even as reports emerged of past leaks involving its pipelines. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
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California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency due to the spill. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Recycled plastic bottles are seen at the San Francisco Recycling Center. Because most bottled water is consumed away from home where recycling isn't an option, an estimated 40 million bottles a day go into the trash or become litter. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Plastic washed up on a San Francisco beach. kevinkrejci/Flickr
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The lights of a jet streak past the Edison Co. Generating Plant at night in Long Beach. In what could be one of the first attempts by a state to regulate heat-trapping gases linked to global warming, California is studying power plant emissions and whether to install new regulations. David McNew/Getty Images
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A worker inserts a probe into the tailpipe of a car while performing an emissions test in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Trucks are driven near the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the busiest port complex in the US, near Long Beach. About 40 percent of U.S. imports pass through the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. David McNew/Getty Images
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The Department of Water and Power (DWP) San Fernando Valley Generating Station of Sun Valley.David McNew/Getty Images
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Protesters stage a demonstration against fracking in California outside of the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building in San Francisco. Fracking critics in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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Pump jacks are seen next to a canal in an oil field. David McNew/Getty Images
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Farm equipment is parked in a field near Bakersfield.
Agricultural fertilizers as well as cow manure from dairy farms have led to domestic wells in California's Central Valley having dangerously high levels of nitrates making it unsafe to drink. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
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The Richmond-San Rafael bridge as seen through hazy, smoke-filled air. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
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The Wilmington ARCO refinery seen before dawn. Agencies overseeing these oil refineries are not demanding strict enough standards for emissions. David McNew/Getty Images
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Signs warn the public to stay out of the water in an area harboring high bacteria levels near a drain at Will Rogers State Beach at Santa Monica Bay. David McNew/Getty Images
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A pipe is one of the few signs that houses once stood on this property. Pacific Gas & Electric bought and razed the homes after the company was found to have polluted Hinkley's ground water with cancer-causing hexavalent chromium. The community''s pollution struggle inspired the movie Erin Brockovich. David McNew/Getty Images
California’s Pollution Problem Is Very Real: 31 Photos
When Americans look on in horror at the pollution choking China and India, considering it a problem that "others" have, they do so at their own peril.
The breezy state of California suffers from a sweeping pollution problem as well, so much so that the American Lung Association’s 2016 "State of the Air" report concluded that California cities occupy seven of the top 10 positions in the U.S. in the year-round particle pollution category. California cities also take six of the top 10 spots in the short-term particle pollution and ozone categories.
These rankings are at least in part due to the wildfires presently ravaging the state. As the fires set regions ablaze, they also send smoke and ash into the atmosphere. These fine particles can travel up to 300 miles from their source -- affecting a wider swath of individuals than those who live in close physical proximity to the fires.
But California's abysmal pollution rankings also have to do with lifestyle choices. The state's notoriously smog-filled skylines come due to fuel emissions belched out by the nearly 29 million cars operating within its borders. Indeed, Southern California has the country's highest levels of ozone (the corrosive gas in some), and doesn't meet federal standards for fine particles (the harmful specks of pollution that can lodge deep in the lungs), the Los Angeles Times reported.
And smoggy skies' effects don't confine themselves to aesthetics: In 2016, New York University scientists found that more than 2,000 southern Californians die early each year from polluted air.
In addition to cars, these deaths are also caused by the oil refineries that are responsible for 60 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions produced in the greater Los Angeles area, for example. What's worse is that the South Coast Air Quality Management District board rejected a clean-air plan earlier this year in favor of a plan concocted by refinery lobbyists that won't even meet minimum California emissions standards.
But all is not lost. California currently leads the nation in clean energy and green technology development, according to a recent report by Beacon Economics research firm. From 2011 to 2016, for instance, solar energy generation has grown 1,378 percent, and as of this year, 20.1 percent of the state’s total energy generation comes from renewables (whereas the national average is just 6.8 percent).
Moreover, the report found the presence of an encouraging event known as “de-coupling,” where the relationship between economic growth and carbon emissions separates. From 1990 to 2014, the state of California saw its population and economy grow while seeing a 36 percent drop in emissions per GDP.
As the President and CEO of the American Lung Association, Harold P. Wimmer noted, "Thanks to cleaner power plants and cleaner vehicles, we see a continued reduction of ozone and year-round particle pollution in the 2016 'State of the Air' report. However, climate change has increased the challenges to protecting public health."
The photos above of California's pollution show the state’s current struggle -- and that fatal pollution is a problem that exists in America's own backyard.
An All That's Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she's designed several book covers in her career as a graphic artist.
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.