Air District officials are planning on issuing the first Air Alert of the year on Monday because high temperatures combined with increased road traffic are expected to raise smog levels.
The Air Alert will begin Monday and continue through Tuesday with a possible extension, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District reported.
The alert is being issued for Stanislaus, Merced, San Joaquin, Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties and the Valley air basin portion of Kern County.
Air Alerts are called when the Valley experiences conditions such as increased emissions, high temperatures and stagnant air flow that lead to ozone formation. During these times residents are asked to curtail activities that increase smog-forming emissions.
The heavy traffic associated with back to school has triggered Air Alerts in the past.
About 80 percent of the Valley’s ozone is caused by mobile sources, according to the Air District. During back-to-school week, vehicle idling is also a major air-quality concern.
“We are asking people to refrain from idling their vehicles when dropping off or picking up schoolchildren,” said Jaime Holt, the District’s chief communications officer.
Increased ozone levels can cause respiratory and heart problems, especially among children, the elderly and those with existing health concerns.
California requires in its Air Pollution Emergency Plan that local air districts notify school personnel when air pollutants reach, or are predicted to reach, specified levels. School districts are expected to use the information in making decisions regarding children’s outdoor activities on poor outdoor air quality days. Some school districts utilize a flag system to let parents and teachers know about the air quality index. The Turlock Unified School District does not use the flags, but instead uses an e-mail alert system.
“We send out e-mails throughout the day letting teachers know what the air quality is, so they can adjust accordingly,” said Assistant Superintendent Mike Trainor.
In addition to the health risks for Valley residents, increased ozone amounts can also have an impact on the finances of Valley residents and businesses. The Environmental Protection Agency has enacted federal guidelines for air quality standards. If a District is found to violate the 1-hour health-based ozone standard, it could trigger an annual $29 million federal penalty, as it did in 2010 in the Central Valley. This penalty is paid by Valley businesses failing to use the best available emissions control technology and Valley drivers via a $12 addition to their DMV registration.
Air officials were encouraged by the public’s reception to the Air Alert notifications in 2011 and anticipate a similar response this year.
Our hopes are high for repeat cooperation this year,” Holt said, calling Air Alerts “a window of opportunity” for residents to prevent exceedances of the 1-hour ozone health standard.
There are steps residents and businesses can take to prevent escalating ozone levels and assist in reaching attainment and avoiding the penalty fee. Reducing vehicle use is an important way to reduce these emissions=, the Air District said. Other steps residents can take include: Refraining from idling when dropping off/picking up students; carpooling, vanpooling or using alternate transportation; and refraining from using drive-through services.
Businesses and municipalities can reduce emissions by: Shifting operations to early morning or late evening (such as in lawn care); offering flexible work schedules; promoting carpools and vanpools for employees; and becoming a Healthy Air Living partner.
There are several ways to receive notification of an Air Alert: Through the District’s 1-800 766-4463 number; at www.valleyair.org; and by free subscription to an automated email list at http;//valleyair.org/list.list.htm.