Heat and dirty air Tuesday triggered the first violations of an expensive ozone standard this summer in the Valley – and the problems could continue today.
With temperatures predicted in the high 90s and triple digits, there could be more violations. That could mean additional years that the Valley will have to pay a $29 million annual ozone fine.
The region will pay the fine next year for the first time after failing to meet the one-hour federal ozone standard – the highest reading in a day – by a 2010 deadline. Drivers will pick up a majority of it with a $12 fee on their vehicle registrations.
To avoid violations and an extension of the fine, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is blitzing residents with a warning to cut back on driving.
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"The higher temperature is definitely affecting us," said executive director Seyed Sadredin.
But there's too much emphasis on the $29 million fine, said Kevin Hall, executive director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, which includes health and environmental advocates. He said the air district's board of directors should be doing more to protect people's health.
"The air board's message to the public has been focused on ending financial sanctions rather than protecting our kids' health," he said. "We have had reports of youth sports teams' afternoon practices happening throughout the region."
On Tuesday, Fresno and Parlier violated the one-hour threshold for corrosive ozone, which can trigger asthma and damage lungs, skin and eyes.
But in the complex world of the U.S. Clean Air Act, that's not enough extend the $29 million fine beyond next year.
The law says the annual fine would only be extended if there were more than three violations at any monitor over a three-year period – 2010 through 2012.
If the Valley gets through the rest of the warm season and next summer without violations at a few key monitors, the region will meet the federal standard. And the fine will go away.
Clovis is the only place in the Valley with three violations since 2010. If there is one more this year or next year, the $29 million fine will continue at least until 2013.
There are other monitors with one violation – Parlier, central Fresno, north Fresno and Hanford. If one of them has three more violations this summer or next, the fine will be extended.
Such violations don't always occur in September, but the air can quickly turn corrosive. Last year, there was a sudden spike in one-hour violations during a heat wave in the last few days of September.
But this year for the first time, the Valley had no August violations of the one-hour standard, which air officials said was a sign of progress.
Air quality advocates, such as Hall, said the improvement was an illusion because the state moved the Kern County monitor in Arvin.
The old monitor had recorded the highest number of violations in the country over the last decade. The new monitor, two miles away, does not record nearly as many violations.
But air officials said the improvement had more to do with their new Air Alert notification program, which sends out bad-air warnings through text, Twitter, Facebook, email, radio, television and newspaper announcements. An alert was triggered this week and continues through Friday.
"We need the public to help out right now," said Sadredin. "We're not out of the woods yet."