Schoolchildren breathe bad air outside on August afternoons in the San Joaquin Valley. We’ve talked about it a lot in the last five years, but something interesting has changed in the back-to-school month.
The change since 2010 has not been postponing the start of school until September or stopping children from riding bikes or walking home in bad air.
Other status quo issues? We don’t have radical solutions, such as driving bans during the worst days, but we still do have a $29 million fee for missing an old ozone standard. We appear to have met that old standard, by the way, but I haven’t heard the official word yet from the federal government.
So what’s the big change? The Valley is averaging twice as many healthy-air days in August over the last five years, compared to the previous five years.
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It’s an interesting change and it may indicate people are trying to protect the air, but it’s no victory dance. The Valley’s summertime air is still as bad as any place in the country. Ozone is a corrosive gas that forms best in hot, stagnant conditions – which pretty much describes this place.
When the federal government soon enforces the most stringent, new ozone standard, this region will struggle to meet it in the 2030s.
And when children make their way home after school this week, they still will face the dirtiest ozone-laced air this summer season.
Ozone attacks the lungs, skin and eyes, especially among children and the elderly. It triggers lung problems, such as asthma, and it has been linked to early death.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District on Wednesday will ask parents to avoid idling their vehicles as they wait to pick up their children.
People will be encouraged to carpool and shift the times that they use gasoline-powered equipment, such as lawnmowers.
“Our campaign this year is ‘we the people’ need to do our share,” says district executive director Seyed Sadredin. “Everybody has a part to play. We still have a long way to go.”
Back to the big change. A mild early August had helped the Valley to get health air on nine of the first 12 days of the month. But that too changed as a typical seasonal heat wave hit, pushing the Valley to exceed the standard four consecutive days. More are expected.
But consider this: From 2010 through 2014, the Valley has averaged nine healthy days each August. In the previous five years, the average was about four healthy days.
The last two years have been the most interesting. During California’s dire drought, summer air pollution is expected to increase. Yet there were 13 good days last year and 16 the year before. Unsettled weather usually is part of it, but people are consciously trying to slow down on pollution-making activities.
“We’ve got research showing there has been significant change in behavior among Valley residents,” Sadredin says. “It’s gratifying to see. We need to continue it.”
Cleanest July air on record
Earlier this month, I wrote about the amazing lack of dirty air in July, calling it the best July in 20 years. Turns out, it was the best July on record, and I goofed.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District studied the same data and found the Valley had its fewest-ever July exceedances of the federal eight-hour ozone standard.
Once I looked at the data, I realized I was looking at the wrong ozone averages on the California Air Resources Board archive. I stand corrected.
Either way, it was an amazingly clean July. August appears to be cleaner than usual, but the air quality can change quickly in summer. Keep thinking about consolidating driving trips and checking the real-time air quality readings each day.