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Valley air historically clean in August; Air Alert issued for September
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One day after announcing for the first time the San Joaquin Valley has seen August pass without recording a single violation of federal air standards, the Air Pollution Control District issued an Air Alert for the first week of September.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District said Thursday that this was the first time in recorded history that the air basin did not incur an exceedance for the standard in August. Air District officials were crediting the new Air Alert campaign with helping citizens recognize times of poor air quality and taking steps to curb smog-forming emissions, such as driving less.

“This is a historic accomplishment, for which the Valley’s residents and businesses can take credit,” said Seyed Sadredin, the Air District’s executive director and air pollution control officer. “They used the information provided by Air Alerts to accomplish the objective of keeping ozone levels below this important threshold.” 

The Valley’s first Air Alert notification began Aug. 23 and extended through Aug. 29. The most recent Air Alert episode was issued from Monday through Thursday, with the possibility of extension through Friday. This includes the counties of San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and portions of Kern.

Air Alert episodes are declared when conditions may lead to ozone formation that results in exceeding health-based ozone standards. Typically, exceedances of the one-hour ozone standard – which is set at 125 parts per billion – coincide with the start of the school year and increased vehicle traffic.

Ozone is formed when pollutants combine in heat and sunlight. Temperatures during the Air Alert episode were five degrees above normal, and with added pollution associated with back to school traffic, the ozone concentration rose again; however, this year, with the Valley’s first Air Alert campaign, ozone levels for the first time in history stayed below the threshold in August.

“The air basin has gone from 18 exceedances in August 1996 to two last year, to none this year. It is truly a remarkable accomplishment,” Sadredin said.

The highest level reached during the Air Alert was 116 ppb recorded in Edison in Kern County on Aug. 24, according to the Air District.

When the federal level is exceeded fines are levied against the region. In 2010, the San Joaquin Valley was fined $29 million by the Environmental Protection Agency because it exceeded the federal air-quality standards twice in August. A portion of the fine will be paid by residents in the form of an extra $12 on all Valley vehicle registration fees beginning in October.

The Air District is trying to get the fines from last year repealed.

“This penalty does not recognize the incredible improvements we have made across the board in our air quality,” Sadredin said.

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.

“We continue to be greatly encouraged by the tangible results of all of our efforts in the air basin for cleaner air,” Sadredin said.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.