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Air efforts made a difference, district officials say

Valley residents and business owners should give themselves a big pat on the back this morning.

Why?

Thanks to your efforts, say officials at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the number of Spare the Air days here reached its lowest level in five years.

Just six such days were called throughout the air district's northern region -- Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties -- this summer, which ended Sunday.

Typically, between 20 and 40 Spare the Air days are declared during the course of a summer, depending upon location.

"I want to give credit where it's due," said Seyed Sadredin, air district executive director, "which is to valley residents and businesses who have really stepped up to the challenge of reducing their emissions."

This summer's relatively mild temperatures also played a role, according to air district spokeswoman Janelle Schneider.

"Our (weather) conditions were a contributing factor," she said. "Ozone formation happens in intense heat and sunlight."

Over the summer, the Modesto area recorded just 10 days of 100 degrees or more. During the summer of 2006, that temperature was reached or eclipsed on 19 days.

Spare the Air days are called when air quality is forecast to be unhealthy for everybody (151 and higher on the Air Quality Index) or unhealthy for specific sensitive groups (101-150) in adjacent counties.

This year, that declaration was made just six times in the district's northern region -- June 14-15, July 5-6, Aug. 3 and Sept. 7 -- compared with 42 days in 2006 and 26 in 2005.

In the northern region, which typically records the lowest number of Spare the Air days, just one was declared in San Joaquin County, two in Stanislaus and three in Merced County.

During the summer of 2006, 10 Spare the Air days were recorded in San Joaquin, 13 in Stanislaus and 19 in Merced.

In the district's two southernmost counties, Tulare and the valley portion of Kern, there were six Spare the Air days in each county, compared to 23 apiece the previous year.

"It appears that valley residents have gotten the message that each of us in our daily lives can affect air pollution levels," said district spokes- woman Jaime Holt.

Spare the Air season runs from June through September each year, the height of the ozone season.

Vehicle use contributes the majority of ozone-forming pollutants in the valley.

Ozone, the primary ingredient in smog, can exacerbate respiratory conditions and trigger asthma attacks. Children, the elderly and people with respiratory conditions are especially vulnerable, but when ozone reaches an unhealthy level, everybody is at risk.

Bee staff writer Michael G. Mooney can be reached at mmooney@modbee.com or 578-2384.

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