State’s air quality flunks Lung Association test |

State’s air quality flunks Lung Association test

FRESNO – You know the old joke about the guy from Los Angeles who doesn’t trust air he can’t see? Turns out he would feel at home in most of the state.

An unhealthy haze of brown smog blankets 34 of the state’s 58 counties too many days a year, and four of the state’s most populated areas are more polluted than any other region in the country, according to an American Lung Association report being released today.

Western Nevada County doesn’t show up on the list.

But if you average all the ozone measurements for every hour of the day over the entire year, we’d rank first or second in the state, said Joe Fish, an air pollution control specialist who works in Grass Valley.

“We don’t really know what the health effects are,” Fish said. “What about … getting exposed to high levels for a long time?”

Most of our ozone blows up from the Sacramento area, he said.

Ozone sticks around here longer than it does in Sacramento, Fish said, because we lack high amounts of another form of automobile pollution, nitrogen oxides, which – in a quirky, complex, chemical reaction – “scrub” or remove ozone from the air after the sun goes down.

California retained the dubious distinction of having the worst smog pollution in the nation, with six metropolitan areas on the ALA’s top 10 list, including the top four spots.

”This report is really focused on ozone pollution as a national problem, but we’re most famous for it in California,” said Dr. John Balmes, president of the ALA’s medical section.

The Los Angeles area, including Riverside, Orange and San Bernardino counties, is at the top of the list for the third straight year, followed by Bakersfield, Fresno and the Visalia-Tulare-Porterville areas. The Houston metro area, which is notoriously plagued with bad air, was fifth.

The State of the Air report is based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data from 1998-2000 that measures the number of days air quality is unhealthy under the EPA’s air quality index for ozone, commonly called smog. It does not take into account improvements in the past year.

The state has reduced two-thirds of its smog in the past two decades, but it still has much further to go. The Los Angeles area has made the greatest progress, reducing 75 percent of its smog since 1985, but it still does not foresee meeting federal standards until 2010, said Lisha Smith, spokeswoman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

”In general, the rest of the state hasn’t made progress; the Central Valley is one of those places,” Balmes said. Ozone pollution, commonly called smog, forms when emissions from fuel combustion combine with sunlight, creating a chemical reaction that chokes the air and leaves a brown haze visible on the horizon.

The annual survey comes three months after a study by researchers at the University of Southern California showed that smog not only exacerbated asthma, as was widely believed, but also caused asthma, which is a major health problem nationwide. Although California has strict auto emission standards and stringent air pollution regulations, the state as a whole has failed to clean up its air fast enough.

California’s pollution is blamed on explosive population growth, its car culture, a sunny climate that creates smog and a topography that traps air pollution.

”There’s been real progress, but it’s a tough battle,” said Richard Varenchik, deputy communications director for the California Air Resources Board. ”With the population, the geography and climate, it’s a tough battle to fight.”

The state had the top five smoggiest counties on the list. San Bernardino County received the worst rating for the third year in a row, followed by Kern, Fresno, Riverside and Tulare counties.

San Bernardino can pin most of its problems on drifting smog from the Los Angeles area. Similarly, air pollution from the San Francisco Bay area wafts into the San Joaquin Valley, contributing about 27 percent of the smog in the northern part of the valley and about 10 percent in the southern end.

The drifting pollution is the subject of legislation and litigation as Central Valley lawmakers and two regional air districts push for tougher emissions standards for Bay Area automobiles.

On the Net

American Lung Association

American Lung Association for California

California Air Resources Board

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