Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Confusing air standards will save lives

The federal government last week announced a new standard for dangerous bits of soot, chemical and other debris — saying it will save hundreds of lives when the air is clear in 2020.

On Thursday, the local air district will consider a plan with a 2019 timeline to clean up this debris. So, we’re fine with the new standard, right? Not exactly.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is not talking about the new standard announced last week. It’s talking about a new standard announced a few years ago.

And, like most new standards, the Valley can’t possibly meet this one in time to avoid a problem with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

If you’re thinking this is confusing, you’re right. The Valley and the Los Angeles area’s South Coast Air Basin are still struggling to keep up with older standards, much less achieving new ones.

Every few years when medical research advances and regulators realize the old standards are not protecting people, we get a new drama in the Valley and South Coast.

That’s always going to be the case. South Coast has 16 million people and big challenges with the warm weather. The Valley is surrounded by mountains and has even bigger challenges with weather.

The confusion and drama are worth it only because the air quickly becomes a public health crisis at times in the Valley. The EPA was not exaggerating when it reported that lives would be saved with a particle pollution standard that cuts the soot and other debris by 20%.

Who are the people who die prematurely due to this pollution? Think about people you know who have heart, lung or other severe health problems. It could be your grandfather, your aunt or even you.

A 2008 study by California State University at Fullerton showed that 800 people die prematurely in the Valley each year. Most of those deaths are blamed on microscopic soot, chemicals and other particles.

Economist Jane V. Hall, one of the Cal State Fullerton authors of the study, placed a value of more than $5 billion on the lives of those who die from bad air quality. It’s not actual money. It’s a value set by federal government based on risk and human life..

The whole process of cleaning the air under federal law is confusing and just a bit of a mess. But the plan under consideration Thursday at the local air district will make quite a difference. The new standard, which may seem completely out of reach right now, will help even more.


Alan Kandel says:

What is being discussed here is critically important, so anyone breathing harmful fine particle pollution should be paying close attention.

In fact, it was in “Asthma study finds seasonal surprises” in The Fresno Bee and Merced Sun Star, that Mark brought to light research conducted by University of California at San Francisco-Fresno Medical Education Program lead researcher Tim Tyner in that he (and presumably other interested researchers) discovered that among nine non-asthmatic and otherwise normally healthy women who participated in the study, had “some narrowing of small airways in their lungs.” Is there a fine-particle-pollution/lung-airway-narrowing connection?

Also written was that analyzed urine samples collected in the study “showed chemicals related to tiny specks of pollution, called PM-2.5, which are linked to reduced lung function,” Mark wrote.

I’m confident more research has been done in this area and the corresponding findings compelling.

And as it releates, in the American Chemical Society’s “Fighting Soot In The Air” article in Chemical & Engineering News, author Glenn Hess wrote: “Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, says it has been established that particle pollution is harmful at levels well below those previously deemed to be safe.”

I ask: what more evidence is needed to know that adopting and adhering to the new EPA national ambient air quality health standard for fine particle pollution of 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air is for our own individual and collective good?

I believe it is also critically important to note that the seven counties not expected to meet the new standard by 2020 are all in California, three of them being Kern, Tulare and Merced counties, all the more reason for the Valley Air District to do what is necessary to likewise institute a new standard than is far more protective of public health than what is currently on the books.

8TM says:

People have known combustion particles were bad to breathe since Prometheus, and they’ve acknowledged it ever since the first people started avoiding the downwind side of the campfire. Every chimney is a monument to that knowledge.

In issuing the new PM 2.5 regulations to protect public health, EPA cites over 1000 studies that demonstrate the harm to human health that the breathing this type of pollution does.

Here’s just one that gets me. It goes beyond the well-established fact that every breath lodges these particles deep in the lungs, beyond the fact they go further and are detectable in the blood-stream in seconds and start attacking the vessels supplying heart and lungs. What’s getting me is that living in high levels of fine particulate pollution actually attacks the vasculature of even the brain, and places one at considerably greater risk of dementia.

Bad Air Means Bad News for Seniors’ Brainpower

Is this the cause of “the Fresno effect,” the seemingly inevitable dulling of even the most vibrant personality after a spell of living here that we used to attribute to heat of too many summers oppressing the brain? Maybe the dank winters, acrid with wood-smoke, are as much to blame.

Alan Kandel says:

I appreciate your comments.

In adding to this, understanding the value and benefit of being in compliance goes without saying. But how to get there is another matter entirely.

In my view the answer is rail transit.

To lend support, from the International Union of Railways report: “High Speed Rail and Sustainability,” here are two very relevant thoughts:

“Among all sectors, the transport sector is the only one in which emissions are continuing to increase in spite of all the technological advances. Moreover, transport emissions, for instance in Europe, increased by 25% between 1990 and 2010. By contrast emissions from the industrial and energy sectors are falling.”

“The alarming performance of the transport sector is largely due to road traffic, which accounts for 73% of global transport emissions. …If domestic and international aviation is combined then it is the second largest emitter accounting for 13% of global transport emissions. By contrast, the rail sector accounts for just 2% of total transport emissions.”

Electrified rail is the way to go, and I’m not just talking intercity, I’m also talking urban rail systems like light rail and streetcar. Regarding intercity rail, one need not look any farther than Amtrak. The intercity rail passenger carrier’s numbers in the San Joaquin Valley are impressive.

In 1977 when I first moved to Fresno, there was only 1 Amtrak “San Joaquin” roundtrip. Today there are 6, with an annual ridership of over 1 million people. Like I like to say, it didn’t just get this way by accident. Now add to this foundation, urban rail, that coupled with efficient land use, people will come in droves, and this modal shift from rubber-tire-based transport to steel-wheel-on-steel-rail, and real gains in emissions reduction will be realized. Bring in high-speed rail and the emissions-reduction picture gets even brighter. Obviously the proof is in the pudding and there is much credible evidence to back up what I say.

8TM says:

Why am I so much more bullish on Fresno County meeting the new 2.5 micron particulate health standard by 2020 as EPA predicts we will? The two biggest contributions to particulate pollution of this size in the air we breathe are combustion by-products from two sources: diesel engines and residential wood-burning. The State of California through our Air Resources Board has issued regulations for diesel engines that will require particle traps on all the old engines after next year and will require the replacement of the older much dirtier engines with the much, much cleaner (post 1997) engines by 2024. And our local Air District will approve a plan this week that, among other measures, will lower the threshold for triggering a mandatory wood-burning curtailment. I am confident the State regulations will be enforced. The local wood-burning abatements are increasingly well-observed, but they require everyone’s cooperation and vigilance to be entirely effective. After telling my Chiropractor last winter about my habit of taking my cell phone along on my morning runs to report people flouting the mandatory wood-burning proscription, he reported back to me that not only has he adopted the same practice, but he claims he can memorize a house number and dial up the Air District [800 870-1037] to report a violation — without breaking stride. Professes this to have had a marvelously cleansing effect in his neighborhood.

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