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Pollution: Hot, stagnant weather gives region just 5 days of clean air since May
By David Danelski
If the smog seems terrible this summer, well, it is. ¶ In June, Southern California’s ocean-to-mountains air basin had just four days of healthy air. ¶ Things got worse in July when ozone levels exceeded the federal health standard every day except July 31. And as August begins, there’s no relief in sight. ¶ Officials with the region’s air quality agency blame the bad air on this summer’s unusually hot and stagnant weather — not an increase in emissions from cars, trucks, factories and other pollution sources. ¶ In fact, the South Coast Air Quality Management District estimates that smog-forming emissions are down thanks to rules that require increasingly cleaner cars, trucks and other machinery, said Philip Fine, the air district’s deputy executive officer.
The weather, however, is another story. “We have had a lot of record- breaking temperatures and high temperatures result in a lot of ozone formation,” Fine said. Also, atmospheric conditions caused by inversion layers have forced the pollution to concentrate in the air basin, he said. Normally, it mixes with cleaner air and eases in the late afternoon.
The numbers suggest a step backward from years of clean-air progress.
Pollution data made public by the California Air Resources Board show that so far this year Southern California has exceeded the federal health standard for ozone during 85 days. That is 21 more unhealthful days than last year’s count as of Aug. 3.
Not only is the region exceeding the health standard more often, pollution levels are also reaching higher levels. This summer has had seven days during which ozone levels were higher than last year’s worst day.
Ozone forms when nitrogen oxides — mostly from burning fuels — react with volatile organic compounds, such as fumes from gasoline, varnish or nail polish, with help from sunlight. The hotter it gets, the faster this chemical reaction occurs.
Ozone irritates the moist tissues in our eyes, noses and lungs. It causes nausea and headaches and triggers asthma attacks, among other health problems. Various studies have shown that more children miss school and more workers call in sick during bad-air days. Studies also link ozone to early deaths.
Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the air district, urged people, especially those with respiratory conditions, to follow air quality forecasts and sign up for the air district’s air alerts at www.aqmd.gov/airalerts/.
Fine said people can avoid ozone exposure by staying indoors because it needs sunlight to form.
Karen Jakpor, a Riverside resident and volunteer for the American Lung Association, has asthma so severe she sometimes has trouble speaking.
“It’s much worse this summer for my breathing than previous years,” she said.
She has had to increase the dose of her steroid medications and was briefly hospitalized, she said.
Jakpor has to stay indoors much of the time, and that meant her 11-year-old daughter had to miss her swimming lessons on at least three occasions.
“The numbers of days each year I have to stay indoors is the same number of days my daughter can’t play outside, because she has to be supervised,” she said.
Terry Roberts, the managing director for the American Lung Association in the Inland Southern California, Bakersfield and Fresno areas, said this year’s smog season underscores the need to make more progress in reducing emissions.
“We need to improve air quality every way we can,” she said, noting that most of the pollution comes from trucks and other vehicles. “We need to all work together to find cleaner transportation solutions.”
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