Bay Area Air Quality Has Been Worst on Record — Check Out Your City

The sky over Santa Rosa on Monday, Oct. 9. (Lesley McClurg/ KQED)

Updated: Wednesday, October 18, 2017, 11:45 a.m.

Air pollution in Bay Area counties in the past couple of weeks has been the worst since 1999 when officials began collecting data.

Residents in the North Bay are still experiencing  the brunt of the pollution because of nearby wildfires in California’s wine country. Residents in Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties should try to stay inside buildings with air conditioning.  But people in the East Bay and South Bay are not in the clear because the toxic air is creeping all over the region. You can look up your zip code here.

The pollution was so high last week it was comparable to high pollution days in China, says Lisa Fasano at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The worst hour was measured last Tuesday in Napa with an air quality index of 404 for small particulate matter, so high it’s off the chart, as you can see below.

[Check current air quality at  airnow.gov, or sparetheair.org, which has a 5-day forecast] 

Follow these precautions to protect your health:

  • Minimize outdoor activities
  • Exercise in a gym or studio with good ventilation, rather than outdoors
  • Stay indoors with windows and doors closed
  • Do not run fans in windows, drawing smoky air inside
  • Run your air-conditioner on recirculate, rather than bringing in outdoor air
  • Consider leaving the region until air quality improves

Officials warn that very fine smoke particles, a fraction of the size of a human hair, can lodge in the lungs and do irreparable damage to the body.

“When we breath particulates they bypass the lung system and get into our bloodstream,” said Fasano. “They exacerbate respiratory conditions like asthma, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), emphysema and other conditions because they are very harmful.”

A seasonal inversion layer is putting a lid on the pollution and holding it in the region. Usually the Bay Area benefits from a natural air conditioning system with winds blowing in off the coast and carrying the air inland.

“We are also seeing elevated levels in San Francisco and Redwood City,” says Fasano. “We are all being impacted by this really unhealthy air pollution.”

If you’re concerned about working out,  “Outdoor exercise is not advised in the heavily smoke impacted counties of Napa, Sonoma, and Solano,” says Fasano.

Fasano recommends buying a face mask at the hardware store with a N-95 rating or higher. Unfortunately neither a hospital mask or a bandanna tied over the face prevents noxious air from entering the lungs. Fasano suggests staying inside through the weekend to avoid breathing both particle pollution and ash wafting through the air.

Bay Area Air Quality Has Been Worst on Record — Check Out Your City 18 October,2017Lesley McClurg

  • Chairman Meow

    486 is not comparable to China’s PM2.5 pollution, which is often in the 700-800 range, and as high as 1000-1400. Also the AQI scale is 0-500 so 486 is not quite off the chart, but very dangerous nonetheless…

Author

Lesley McClurg

Lesley McClurg reports for KQED Science primarily on medical and mental health with a sprinkling of stories about space, environmental toxins and food.

If there’s a natural disaster brewing Lesley can usually be found right in the midst of a catastrophe. She’s reported on disastrous floods, fires, droughts and earthquakes.

Her work is regularly rebroadcast on NPR and PBS. She is an Edward R. Murrow and Emmy award winning journalist. The Society of Environmental Journalists recognized her beat coverage of California’s historic drought.

Before joining KQED in 2016, she reported for Capital Public Radio, Colorado Public Radio, KUOW and KCTS in Seattle.

You can find her on Twitter at @lesleywmcclurg.

You can find her KQED medical science stories, her environment stories, and general news stories.

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