People are getting a breather between dirty-air seasons right now in the San Joaquin Valley — ozone is almost gone and soot hasn't quite arrived.
Breathe deep, exhale. Repeat. Now consider what's to come if we don't have at least several stormy weeks this winter.
Soot, chemicals and other microscopic debris account for the majority of premature deaths related to dirty air in the Valley. We're talking about hundreds of people each year.
Among air-quality regulators, the specks are known as PM-2.5 — particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller in width. Thirty or 40 of these specks would fit across the width of a human hair. These specks are small enough to evade the lung's defenses and pass into the bloodstream.
If storms and unsettled weather keep the air moving this winter, it might not be a bad season. But when the air stagnates and a foggy pattern sets up, air quality can get unhealthy quickly, especially for people with sensitive lungs and heart ailments.
Pay attention to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District when it issues air-quality forecasts and wood-burning prohibitions. If no wood burning is allowed in your county, don't light a fire in your fireplace.
The air district says the Valley will achieve the PM-2.5 standard by 2019, and there's quite a payoff. About 670 premature deaths will be eliminated, the district says.
Where are those deaths occurring? Kern County has nearly a third of them with 207 a year, according to the research. Fresno County has 172. Tulare County has 86.
The payoff for a PM-2.5 cleanup will be big in other ways. For asthma alone, hospital admissions and emergency room visits would decrease by nearly 1,500 each year.
In case you were wondering, there's also an attractive dollar figure related to the cleanup. When you eliminate all the costs for nonfatal lung and heart problems, you get a $102 million savings each year, the air district says.
For ozone, good news still bad news
I'm still thinking about ozone and the summer of 2013. I think the good news in California is also the bad news.
The good? Both the San Joaquin Valley and the South Coast Air Basin are poised to set all-time records for the least number of bad days — 86 in the Valley and 90 in South Coast, so far.
The bad? South Coast's lowest-ever number of eight-hour ozone exceedances is still the worst in the country this year. The Valley's lowest-ever is second worst. And third place is not even close to South Coast or the Valley.
Antelope Valley is third with 64 exceedances. Coachella Valley is fourth with 48. Houston is fifth with 20.
I checked the number of exceedances for the one-hour ozone standard, too. The Valley has not breached the standard this year, which would be a first if it holds up through the end of the warm season.
South Coast, which includes Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties, had four exceedances of the one-hour standard. Houston had one. I found no others.