Did Valley's sooty air set a record this week?

Posted by Mark Grossi on December 19, 2013 

Downtown Fresno and sooty sky this week.

MARK CROSSE

It was just another bad run of dirty, sooty air in the San Joaquin Valley this month until Tuesday and Wednesday. It went quickly from bad to much, much worse -- and possibly into the record books.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, there were as many day-long monster readings of tiny particles as in the past 12 years combined.

In fact, there were more of these dangerous readings on those two day than in any one year on record, according to the numbers I found on the California Air Resources Board website.

One air-quality expert told me: "There are people with compromised lungs who will die from this episode."

I'm not sure anyone knows that for sure, but I have heard health experts say the same thing about extended bouts of bad air.

The readings involved are day-long averages, not peaks. The federal health threshold for fine particle pollution, known as PM-2.5, is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air. 

On Tuesday, Hanford had 103.3 and Bakersfield 105.6. On Wednesday, Clovis was 102, Fresno 103.3, Bakersfield 111.1, Porterville 116.1, Visalia 124.7 and Hanford 128.8.

It happened because microscopic debris built up for more than a week under very dry conditions. The little storm that came through California Thursday stirred the Valley's massive pot of debris and made breathing easier, though dirty air problems may start right back up again.

Here's the thing to remember: Anytime the daylong average exceeds 35 microns per cubic meter, the air is getting dangerous to breathe. When it tops 100, everyone should should avoid the outside air. Check the hourly numbers in your area online.

There have been higher numbers in the past. Bakersfield spiked 167.7 and a whopping 195.5 in 2009. Fresno had a 160 in 2000.

But I could not find another day like Wednesday in the records -- six 100-plus readings. It looks like a scary, record-setting day from Fresno to Bakersfield.

One last bit of advice: Protect your neighbors. Check before you burn wood in your fireplace to see if it is a no-burn day.

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