Looking ahead after sooty season for Valley air

Posted by Mark Grossi on March 3, 2014 

The air quality in the valley has been poor because of the stagnant air and particulate matter suspended in the damp air. This is a photo looking south from the top of the Security Bank Building. Chukchansi Park is at lower left. Downtown Fresno in winter. View is looking south from the top of the Security Bank Building. Chukchansi Park is at lower left.

MARK CROSSE/THE FRESNO BEE — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

A nasty, smoky fireplace season ended last week with double the number of wood-burning prohibitions compared to the previous winter.

The nearly 400 bans in the San Joaquin Valley's eight counties might be the face of future winters. The threshold for calling these bans will become more stringent in November, meaning it won't take much to trigger one.

The trigger level during this past season was 30 micrograms per cubic meter of air. For comparison, the federal 24-hour standard is 35 micrograms, and there is plenty of argument over whether that really protects people.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District will drop the burn-ban threshold to somewhere between 20 and the current number. The decision will be made later this year.

If the level had been 20 this year, there would have been more burn bans called in November and February, which sometimes are a little clearer than December and January. I saw at least 10 more days in February that probably would have been called if the threshold was 20.

I think all of December and January would have been declared no-burn days under that scenario. Those two months were a sooty nightmare.

Four January days did not exceed the federal threshold of 35 micrograms this year, and there were five December days. Only nine decent days in two months -- and most of them probably would be no-burn days in future winters.

We've had better days in early March, thanks to the breezy, stormy weather. At the same time, one of my neighbors seems to be burning wood in his fireplace continually now that the bans have ended for the season.

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