Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Celebrate air-quality advances, but don’t think the work is over

This message has played for years: San Joaquin Valley air quality has come a long way, and we need to celebrate progress. But we’ve still got years of work ahead to achieve all federal standards.

You’ll recognize the theme in the latest annual report from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which turned 20 years old last year.

The report says winters and summers are the cleanest they’ve ever been here. The Valley has achieved the coarse particle pollution standard — it’s called PM-10, or dust.

But tighter federal ozone and particle pollution standards will come. The Valley probably will still be struggling in the next two decades. The 4 million people here live in a bowl of air that traps pollutants.

The difference now is that there has been a shift in public awareness. I wrote my first news story on the air district in June 1993, and it illustrated the thinking of the time.

The story was titled “Wood-burning rules go on back burner.” People refused fireplace rules. Instead, the district began discussing “voluntary wood-burning rules.”

“The two words (voluntary and rules) go together as much as jumbo and shrimp, and army and intelligence,” said Charles Harness, a board member at the time. The words confusing and toothless also were used.

A dozen years later, people still didn’t want a wood-burning rule, but the district became one of the first places in the country to enforce bans on burning.

The change was forced by air-quality activists and advocates who filed a federal lawsuit. This kind of legal action has been a driving force behind many important changes in Valley air quality.

Today, the fireplace soot problem remains, but Valley winters are nothing like they were in the 1990s.

More importantly, people seem to have come around. The air district now is tightening the wood-burning rule, and many readers have told me that it’s good news.

The wood-burning rule is just one among many important changes over the last 20 years. The air district also has regulated air pollution from farms as well as city sprawl. Air leaders also pioneered an alert system online and via texting to tell the public when pollution is spiking.

All of which is important to recognize with fanfare. After the celebration, though, there’s more work and expense waiting.

Use an EPA-certified wood stove, get a little break on new rules

The local air board is planning to soften new restrictions that could stop wood-burning in fireplaces most of the winter in Fresno and Bakersfield.

Wood-burning will be allowed on some no-burn days, leaders said Thursday. But an EPA-certified wood-burning device, such as a stove or heater, would have to be used.

The district will hold public hearings to determine the threshold.

Starting in 2014, the new burn bans will be triggered when soot and other debris reaches 20 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Right now, the threshold is 30.

The exemption level for people using EPA-certified devices will probably be 30 to 35, I’m told.

On an even more technical note, the new restrictions are part of the district’s plan that will be sent to state and federal authorities. But the pollution reductions won’t be claimed until the winter of 2016-2017 in the plan — a matter of bookkeeping on the way to the 2019 attainment date.

The district board moved the restrictions up two years to get the health benefits early.

 

 


Double whammy of pollution hits Valley’s air

The double whammy hit the San Joaquin Valley on election day with violations of both the ozone and the particle pollution standards.

And it’s still a little tough to breathe this morning, as the photograph shows. I climbed a few flights of stairs and took this shot from the roof of The Fresno Bee.

If you check the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District web page, you’ll find it’s a no-burn day for folks in four counties. That means no wood burning in fireplaces and fireplace inserts.

If you’re interested in finding out about the air quality in your area, click on this air district page and look for the closest monitor.

This is a tough time of year for people with sensitive lungs. The particle pollution — think of microscopic soot, chemicals and other debris — seems to get a little worst toward the middle of the day. If ozone is the problem in your area today, look for it to spike in the afternoons.

Let’s hope a little breeze blows some of this stuff out as the weather cools in the next few days.