There already have been brush fires around O’Neals, Millerton Lake, Porterville and Fresno. Residents are fleeing flames in Southern California. With dry grasslands and forests after another subpar wet season, this could be a very ugly fire season.
The immediate concern is danger to residents, firefighters and homes. Air quality is a secondary concern, but it’s worth noting because it can become a wider public health concern. Pay attention to the warnings from air authorities.
Remember June 2008? There were thousands of fires sparked by lightning. Columns of smoke drifted into the San Joaquin Valley from many directions.
For about a week, dirty air simultaneously breached both the ozone and particle pollution standards. The double whammy happened again in July 2008, though it wasn’t as bad as that June episode.
The American Lung Association says air quality has improved in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. The ozone pollution is no longer among the 10 worst in the country. That’s a step toward reality in the Lung Association’s latest rankings.
Here’s what I mean: The last time San Luis Obispo breached the federal eight-hour standard was 2008. Meanwhile, Hanford’s ozone concentration rose above the federal standard eight times just in 2012.
As I said, this is no criticism of the Lung Association, which has a far more complex way of figuring its rankings than the number of times the ozone exceeds the standard. And San Luis Obispo has been bounced all the way down to the bottom of the list.
But it’s just weird to even be talking about improving air quality in a metropolitan area where the ozone standard is exceeded once or twice in a decade.
Pop quiz: When the Valley’s air breached the federal ozone standard earlier this month, was it an exceedance or a violation?
In federal air-speak — a legal language invented over the past few decades — it was an exceedance, not a violation
Air quality was a concern during this Cross City Race several years ago.
I called it a violation, which I think is easier to understand when we’re speaking in general terms. I sparingly use the term exceedance when I’m explaining the law or its consequences.
But maybe it’s time to start using both exceedance and violation, and explaining the difference each time for clarity. What do you readers think?
So, let’s talk about difference. You need three exceedances at a monitor to get an official violation. You can see why people who know the difference are upset when I write that the Valley’s two March breaches — now I’ve invented my own air-speak — are violations.
In the legal world, it’s an important distinction. Exceedances are cause for concern. Violations can knock your community out of compliance with the standard. That can lead to penalties and expense for the community involved.
How does a community achieve the federal standard? A federal official emailed me this several years ago:
“A community will meet the eight-hour standard when the three-year average of the annual fourth highest daily maximum eight-hour ozone concentration measured at each monitoring site is less than 76 parts per billion (ppb).”
I’ve just been writing that we need zero violations. I’m pretty sure that would work — for both exceedances and violations.
Honestly, I’ve never been able to write a sentence about the “three-year average of the fourth annual highest daily maximum” and really make it sing.
But I am now seriously thinking of switching from my conversational use of “violations” to the combination of exceedances and violations. Maybe there is value in making the distinction each time I refer to it.
For those who are still awake after reading this, let me know what you think.
The phone conversation started with a question: Which city has worse ozone — Fresno or Bakersfield?
It’s a good question, but I told the reader that we have this conversation far too often around here. It’s like debating the difference between drowning in 15 feet of water and 17 feet of water.
Fresno? Bakersfield? They’re both among the worst in the country.
I think it’s more interesting to compare the Valley with cities outside of California that have a national reputation for dirty air — like Houston and Phoenix. The pollution in Fresno, Bakersfield and other Valley cities is far worse than in cities several times larger.
Look at 2012 violations of the federal eight-hour ozone standard. Phoenix has 1.46 million people, according to the U.S. Census, and the city recorded 30 violations. Houston with a population of 2.1 million had 35.
How many Valley locations had more violations? Clovis, Fresno, Parlier, Arvin, Bakersfield, Oildale, Edison, Porterville and, oddly enough, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
In fact, Houston and Phoenix combined didn’t have as many as the Ash Mountain site in Sequoia National Park, which recorded 82 violations. Parlier with a population of about 15,000 in Fresno County had 60. In Southern California, Crestline in the San Bernardino Mountains led the nation with 88.
Back to Bakersfield and Fresno.
In Fresno with population of about a half million, there were 51 violations last year at one monitoring site. In Bakersfield, population 352,000, one monitor showed 56.
Compared to the rest of the country, the Valley is really in another universe. Fresno and Bakersfield are just part of a bigger picture here.
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.
Ready for the weather whiplash and a season when air pollution can get dangerous?
You probably know forecasters are saying San Joaquin Valley days should nudge into the mid-80′s this week. By Saturday morning, the Valley may see its first widespread frost.
That’s what private meteorologist Steve Johnson wrote in his forecast. He said the lowest of the low temperatures don’t appear to be headed much below 30 degrees.
I’m interested mostly because of air quality. Occasionally, warm November temperatures result in ozone violations. There were two in 2010.
More often, there are violations of the federal standard for tiny particlesknown as PM-2.5. I sometimes call it soot, but PM-2.5 is many types of specks, including chemicals. In cities, a lot of PM-2.5 comes from wood-burning in fireplaces.
It’s time to pay attention to this dangerous pollutant. It is linked to heart disease, lung ailments and early mortality.
Check to see if it’s OK to burn wood before you light up. Even if you don’t have problems breathing, your neighbor might.
Environmental watchdogs filed suit last week to stop that $12 dirty-air fee now attached to your vehicle registration each year. Keep your eye on this one, folks.
It’s all about that $30 million ozone fine that the San Joaquin Valley pays each year for missing a cleanup deadline.
This lawsuit hits at the heart of who pollutes and who pays in the Valley — where there have been more ozone violations in the last 12 years than any other place in the country. The fine is for failing to achieve an old ozone standard.
The lawsuit says the fine has been illegally shifted from major industries to residents, but local air authorities and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency don’t see it quite that way.
The federal suit was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Latinos United for Clean Air, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Sierra Club.
By law, the federal fine for missing the cleanup deadline in 2010 is supposed to be pointed at major industries, Earthjustice says. The EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it allowed local air leaders to waive the fine for many of these industries, the suit says.
But local air authorities say industries already have spent $40 billion over the last several decades and reduced pollution dramatically. Now, they say, it’s time for motorists, who help create the pollution, to pay a little more, too.
There are a host of arguments on both sides about who pollutes more and how the cost should be split up. I’ll let readers trot out the numbers and the arguments.
I’ll conclude by answering the one question that is asked every time I bring up this $30 million penalty.
Where does the money go? It goes into the Valley’s pool of pollution-reduction funding. It’s used, for instance, to help replace dirty diesel engines in the Valley.