Earth Log

June 9, 2014

This June, air quality has turned corrosive to lungs

Earth Log

Mark Grossi's dispatches from the Valley battle with air quality and water use

I stopped counting the bad ozone days after the first half dozen days this month in the San Joaquin Valley.

But I could only look away for a couple of days. On Monday morning, the count was up to eight. I expect to see more this week.

When I mentioned the bad start in June, a friend asked two questions: Isn't June air quality better than July, August or September? Should I really worry about June?

Yes, June is often a little better, but that's usually because July, August and September are just so bad. And, yes, it looks like you should worry about this June.

Here's the main reason: Ozone is a corrosive gas. It oxidizes the skin on your face and the lining in your lungs. 

It's like a sunburn, and it can eventually scar the tissue.

Like other stresses on the body, it hits hardest in your children and your elderly relatives.

Then the next question: Really, does everyone in the Valley get exposed to this stuff every day?

No. Stockton in San Joaquin County has no exceedances yet. Visalia has only two. Monitors in Modesto and Bakersfield only showed two.

But Sequoia National Park has 11 exceedances -- always check the ozone forecast up there before you go hiking. Clovis has 12. And Parlier, downwind of the Fresno-Clovis metropolitan area, has 13.

OK, so how does that stack up against other known smog traps in the country?

Let's look at Houston with 2.1 million people, roughly four times the size of Fresno. Years ago, national media compared Houston with Southern California, saying they were the two worst places in the country. 

The national media was as wrong then as it would be now. Every year as far back as I can trace the records for Houston -- that's 1996 -- the Valley is worse.  

As of Monday morning, Houston has only four exceedances this year. The whole state of Texas has only nine. 

Meanwhile, the Valley has 20. South Coast Air Basin in Southern California has 24. Trust me, those numbers will climb this week. 

California is the U.S. capital of ozone. South Coast and the Valley are the two worst spots in the country. And June this year is a bad month so far. Pay attention to the ozone in your area by checking with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District readings.

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About Mark Grossi

@markgrossi

Mark Grossi has the pulse of the San Joaquin Valley ecosystem, writing since 1993 about subjects such as the region's notorious air quality, the restoration of the San Joaquin River and unhealthy drinking water in rural towns. Twitter: @markgrossi Email Mark at mgrossi@fresnobee.com or call him at 559-441-6316.

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