September 9, 2013

Our View: Hazy sky isn’t the only air quality problem in valley

The Rim fire in the Sierra and a smaller fire at Mount Diablo get the blame for the hazy sky over the valley this week, but fire is not the only issue affecting air quality.

The massive Rim fire in the Sierra and a much smaller fire at Mount Diablo get the blame for the hazy sky over the Northern San Joaquin Valley this week, and coupled with a sudden hot streak, it’s enough to make people want to stay inside.

They also need to use their cars as little as possible because the other issue – not readily visible – is a high ozone level that is a health hazard for people with asthma and other health problems, and that threatens an otherwise good summer we’ve had in terms of meeting federal air standards.

It’s the high ozone level that has prompted the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to issue an air alert at least through Wednesday. Residents are asked to combine errands into as few vehicle trips as possible, carpool and not let their cars idle, as tempting as that might be to leave the air conditioner running. One group that the air district is trying to reach with the air alert message is parents who drive their children to and from school and then leave their cars idling while they wait in the parking lot or on a side street.

Employers are asked to take steps, too, such as letting employees work from home or ordering lunches so they don’t drive at noon.

Smoke from the Rim fire wasn’t much of a factor the last two weeks, but now it’s the larger contributor of haze and small particulate matter in the Valley air, according to air district spokesman Anthony Presto. The Mount Diablo fire had burned almost 4,000 acres by Monday afternoon. San Joaquin, Stanislaus and northern Merced counties are sandwiched between the two, which is why smoke is inevitable.

The almond harvest also contributes to the haze.

The high ozone level is the result of man-made causes, especially vehicle emissions, plus high temperatures and stagnant air flow. Valley residents all pay $12 per year extra on their annual vehicle registration fees because of past violations of the federal ozone standards. The only positive aspect of the fine is that the money collected doesn’t go to Washington, D.C., but is invested here in the Valley toward new school buses, replacement engines and other strategies to reduce pollution.

So far this year, the Valley has not exceeded the one-hour ozone standard, Presto said. We want to keep that record intact, in order to avoid another fine in the future. Not to mention, we need to show concern for our own health and that of family, friends and neighbors with heart or lung ailments. It’s a simple request: Drive as little as possible.

To receive air alert notifications, call (800) 766-4463 or subscribe to the Air Alert email list at www.valleyair.org/list.list.htm.

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