State: Overall Air Quality Improving Despite Our ‘Spare the Air’ Winter

Poor air quality in San Francisco during a string of Spare the Air days in December. (Craig Miller/KQED)
Poor air quality in San Francisco during a string of Spare the Air days in December. (Craig Miller/KQED)

The California Air Resources Board heard a staff presentation in Sacramento on Thursday that shows most parts of the state are continuing to make progress in reducing air pollution. But the report also notes that 32 percent of Californians — more than 12 million people, mostly residents of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California — live in communities where pollution still violates federal clean-air standards.

The report, embedded below, says the Bay Area is the only region in the state that meets both federal ozone and particulate pollution standards, though it still violates stricter state standards.

The presentation also noted the high number of “spare the air” advisories declared in the Bay Area and other regions — with the worst pollution measured in the San Joaquin Valley  — due to our siege of calm, rainless weather and the lack of “vertical mixing” in the atmosphere. The CARB staff presentation says agency scientists are assessing the impact of the recent bad air on the state’s long-term effort to meet federal air standards.

Here’s a writeup from the Associated Press based on the Los Angeles Times story on the report:

Associated Press

While overall air quality in California has improved significantly over the past decade, about a third of the population lives where pollution is in excess of federal health standards, according to state officials.

The California Air Resources Board presented an assessment of smog and soot levels on Thursday in Sacramento, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The board’s report said smog fell 15 to 20 percent in urban areas since 2003, yet levels remain above federal health standards in parts of greater Los Angeles, the San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento and San Diego.

In the South Coast region, which includes Los Angeles and Orange counties, the number of high-ozone days has dropped 21 percent since 2003. State officials now estimate about 60 percent of people, including all coastal residents, live where smog meets federal health standards. But 6 million people in inland areas still live with unacceptably smoggy air, officials said.

Of the state’s five biggest urban areas, only the San Francisco Bay Area meets all federal standards for ozone — the worst component of smog — and fine particulate matter, or soot, according to the assessment.

Air board officials took no action after hearing the staff report.

The evaluation came as exceptionally dry and stagnant weather this winter has worsened air pollution across California and the Southwest, with some of the highest levels in the Central Valley, the Times said. Officials said continuing spells of bad air could set the state back.

“I don’t think we should be too congratulatory because this year has been a bad year,” said board member John Balmes, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco.

Health studies link ozone and fine-particle pollution to respiratory illness and other health problems, including asthma, heart disease and cancer.

Curbing smog over the next decade will require big cuts in nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, according to the board’s report. Those gases — emitted by vehicles, factories and power plants — react in the air to form ozone and fine particles.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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