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Back to school traffic leads to first Air Alert of 2011

POSTED August 23, 2011 9:07 p.m.

Air officials have issued the first Air Alert in their newly-minted program that asks individuals to make some small changes, which could have big impacts on the Central Valley’s air quality and collective wallets.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District initiated an Air Alert Tuesday that will continue through Sunday. During these times residents are asked to curtail practices that increase smog-forming emissions. The alert is for the entire Central Valley.

The district said the Air Alert was issued because back to school traffic is triggering higher emission levels, which when combined with higher temperatures and little to no air circulation, has the possibility of exceeding the federal air quality standards.

Air pollution can cause respiratory and heart problems, especially among children, the elderly and those with existing health concerns.

In addition to the negative health effects, ozone violations can result in monetary penalties for Central Valley residents.

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency fined the Central Valley $29 million for violating federal air-quality standards. Penalty fees can be assessed on businesses that are not using clean-air technology and practices. Additionally, Central Valley residents will have a $12 fee added to their vehicle registration beginning in October to pay a portion of the fine.

“Ozone is a serious health problem in the Valley, and in addition, has enormous economic repercussions,” said Seyed Sadredin, the district’s executive director and air pollution control officer. “Air Alerts provide a critical window of opportunity for residents and businesses to take action that can prevent triggering an ozone episode that carries severe penalties.”

Eighty percent of the Valley’s ozone problem is caused by vehicle use. When an Air Alert is declared, residents and businesses are urged to put into place measures that reduce vehicle miles traveled, including  carpooling, vanpooling, using alternative transportation, avoiding the use of drive-through services and refraining from vehicle idling. All of these actions produce emissions that lead to ozone formation.  Businesses are asked to offer flexible scheduling to reduce commute-time traffic and allow telecommuting. Additionally, residents and businesses are encouraged to shift ozone creating activities, such as lawn maintenance, to early mornings or after the Air Alert episode is over.

So far this year the Central Valley has not had any air quality violations. However, last year the violations occurred during the back to school time period.

The district has incorporated the use of social media and texting to spread the Air Alert. To sign up for Air Alerts visit http://valleyair.org/lists/list.htm.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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