Earth Log

Earth Log: Time for reading, writing, protecting kids from ozone

School is starting up again. In August heat. Parents, you need to limit your child's exposure to ozone and reduce air pollution.

It's not calculus, but it is not simple, unless you just focus on carpooling.

With carpooling, two families get together to share rides for their children and cut air pollution by half for those two families. The benefits grow when three or four families get involved. It's a no-brainer.

But sending your child to school on a bike or on foot? That's different. 

In the morning, the air quality generally doesn't factor into outdoor activities, so it's fine on the way to school. But many days in the San Joaquin Valley, it's not so nice in the afternoon.

Ozone, a gas that corrodes skin and lungs, spikes in the afternoon -- in both August and September. Parents of children who walk or bicycle to school might want to follow hourly ozone updates from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

"We would like to see kids riding bikes and walking," said district spokeswoman Jaime Holt. "But there are some afternoons that they shouldn't be out there. For older children who have cell phones, it might be a matter of parents contacting them at the end of school."

In the past, readers told me they've had a problem arranging their own schedules to accommodate poor air quality. Some can't just leave their jobs to pick up children.

Others told me they show up on bad days and pick up their children. Still others said they are frustrated by the whole process and question whether the danger was real. So they don't do anything.

In the backdrop, another ozone drama plays out.

This is about avoiding an exceedance of the federal one-hour ozone standard. If a lot of people decide to protect their children's health by picking them up in cars on bad days, will the extra pollution load trigger a violation?

It's an important question. The Valley air district last year asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to acknowledge that this area has achieved the one-hour standard. The EPA is still thinking about it.

If the EPA approves, the obligation for a $29 million annual fine goes away. Meantime, if the Valley violates that standard this summer, EPA approval is probably off the table.

As Valley summers go, this one has not featured major ozone problems. Usually, you'll see only a handful of July days when the ozone does not cause the air to exceed the standard. This year, the Valley had 12 days without an exceedance in July

We have not seen a July like that -- at least not in the last 15 years of record-keeping.

The weather has helped air quality this summer at times, but district leaders say the Valley's decades-long air cleanup campaign appears to be having an effect.

At the same time, this is August in the Valley. Ozone has a way of suddenly getting out of control in this month. Keep an eye on that air monitoring system for your area.