Blizzards, droughts, polar vortexes, other weather-related phenomena: So what gives?!

While upstate New York’s Buffalo deals with chest-deep and deeper, lake-effect snow (think “Polar Vortex”), the aura of an almost indescribable sunset, its presence, its afterglow displayed in all its glory, there for the taking in right outside my window. A postcard-like scene such as this, making as rare an appearance as would be true of a blue moon, this is what I bore witness to but a few dusks ago.

To state the obvious that the weather is strange is to vastly understate things. In Fresno, the place where I hang my hat, temps are forecasted to be on the warmish side: daytime highs in the 60s and at night not dipping down much below that. I ask: For what weather-wise this year exactly are we in store? A, excuse the expression, “carbon”-copy of last year’s “Triple-R” (“ridiculously resilient ridge” or “RRR”) weather pattern and possibly more? My observation is this: conditions are playing out in the fall in this year in much the same way. And, speaking of last winter’s weather, it was a doozy. Days on end of unending air pollution of the kind for which the San Joaquin Valley is known. Yuck! And, if by some weird coincidence to occur is a second “Triple-R” encounter in a row, first I’d be saying enough is enough and second I’d be asking, meteorologically speaking, why are we getting another dose of this stuff? In any case in the Valley, I believe I can speak for one and all when I say doing without another “RRR” bout would be most welcome news and would do a body good … no doubt.

It just so happens, this morning I read a New York Times piece, and a quite eye-opening report at that, about receding and disappearing glaciers in, of all places, a place that derives its name from these so-called climate-, temperature- or weather-driven ice formations – Montana’s Glacier National Park. Michael Wines, the article’s author, even said so himself that the glacial retreat was not altogether a result of anthropogenic activity, though scientists do themselves find global warming’s human-influence aspect to be a major part. At least, this is how in this regard I understood what was written by Wines.

And, here in my own, literal and figurative, back yard, well, get a load of this: lilac-tree and potato-plant flowers in full bloom, the latter resplendent in radiantly purple color. And to think this in late autumn. If a person did not know better, one would be inclined to think it was the season opposite: spring. But, alas, “better” is known.

So, what is going on? What gives? What’s this all about? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

As it relates, not all may agree on cause, or if there’s even anything behind this at all. By chance, maybe more than just by chance, could the root of some of the weather-related goings-on be pollution? If nothing else, something to think about.

Enough of the polar vortexes, blizzards, droughts, tornados and whatever else there is in the way of destructive, weather-related phenomena, already. Tell me again, how is it relief is spelled?

CATS: Turning plastics into petrol a far-fetched idea … not!

Number 33 in the Clean Air Technologies Series.

I have heard of fuel made from corn. It’s called ethanol. I have even heard of fuel made from trash. So, when I read about the notion of making fuel from plastic, what is my reaction? Sure, why not?!

In the Dec. 2014 Vegetable Growers News in: “Phantom company might be answer to plastic waste,” certified hydraulic specialist and Alfred State College Associate Professor Matthew Lawrence is one of several identified names article author Keith Loria mentions. According to the VGN correspondent, Lawrence said to work, non-recyclable plastic must be recognized not as waste, but for the extremely energy-dense resource it is.

Though, the thought of turning plastic into petroleum among other fuels, makes me stop and think: Can this be done cleanly?

Said Lawrence: “‘… [W]e need to recognize the fact that if burned at high temperatures, plastics can be burned cleanly, …’” Loria wrote.

The VGN correspondent further explained: “The only industry with the capability to burn the plastics is the cement kiln industry, which is highly regulated with a tremendous appetite for energy-dense fuels. Lawrence said cement kilns are very, very hot combustion chambers – a perfect location for the hydrocarbon chains in the plastic to be completely broken down.

“An increasing amount of research is being done on the subject. In addition to the work that Lawrence is doing, others are taking charge.

“‘China and India are leading the charge with a process called pyrolysis – basically a chemical process to convert plastic back into more recognizable fuel types like fuel oil, gasoline and natural gas,’ Lawrence said,” Loria wrote, once again citing Lawrence.

And, where would the energy-dense plastic being referred to come from?

Lawrence explained that since by weight around 10 percent of landfill content is plastic, such could be a viable source, according to the VGN correspondent, Loria adding that every year in the U.S., plastic, over 30-million-tons-worth of it, reaches landfills.

That’s a lot of plastic and a potential source of fuel.

Marine debris on Hawaiian coast1 CATS: Turning plastics into petrol a far fetched idea … not!
Person amidst washed-up-on-shore-debris, Hawaii

Image above: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

CATS: Emissions-control apparatus to cut railroad operating costs, improve air

Number 32 in the Clean Air Technologies Series.

The U.S. railroad operating environment is becoming cleaner and greener.

Eleven Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) locomotives that will be based in and work out of Pasco and Spokane, Washington, are receiving emissions-control upgrades.

DSCN4436 340x255 300x225 CATS: Emissions control apparatus to cut railroad operating costs, improve airThe BNSF in a news release on Nov. 13, 2014 made the announcement that “BNSF Railway, in partnership with Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (Spokane Clean Air) and HOTSTART, is retrofitting 11 locomotives with HOTSTART idle-reduction technology to reduce emissions and conserve fuel in Washington. The pool of locomotives will operate out of the BNSF rail yards in Spokane, Wash. and Pasco, Wash.” The equipment will eliminate an estimated 22-plus-tons of emissions over a six-month period during which time said locomotives will be operating in cold-weather conditions, as pointed out in the release.

It is really no surprise. This is just one more facet of an ongoing railroad-industry trend to improve operations, save fuel and lower emissions and lower costs while increasing productivity, following a similar trend in the transportation sector as a whole.

“‘Minimizing our impact on the planet is a key priority for all of us at BNSF and we are always striving to incorporate new practices and technologies to help us reduce our impact,’ said John Lovenburg, BNSF vice president, Environmental. ‘Through our partnership with HOTSTART and Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, we are able to make continued strides in Washington to further reduce carbon emissions in our operations,’” as cited in the press release.

The incorporation of the HOTSTART Auxiliary Power Units or APUs into the BNSF locomotives in question, will reduce cold-weather idling. The technology allows locomotive prime movers to stay warm when shut down, making the engines themselves restart-ready. Shut-down locomotive engines cut down on “fuel consumption, oil consumption, emissions, noise and engine wear.

“In addition to the APUs, BNSF has installed Automatic Engine Start-Stop systems (AESS) that can be used in conjunction with the APU to shut down the locomotive when not needed. The combination of APUs and AESS can potentially eliminate most locomotive engine idling. Remote data logging systems will be installed onboard each locomotive to monitor and track data for each of the 11 APU systems,” BNSF in the release noted.

Of BNSF’s more than 7,500 locomotives, over 90 percent are equipped with AESS, the Class I (One) freight-railroad company in the release noted, as is true of all new BNSF locomotives.

The above-said emissions-control process provides yet another avenue for helping to keep harmful emissions from entering the air.

WHO tells us why good air indoors matters

According to a Nov. 12, 2014 World Health Organization (WHO) news release, the organization announced new guidelines: guidelines that provide information related to disease burden and premature death attributed to the effects of inside-the-home air pollution; plus there is considerable mention of achievable emissions targets for domestic appliances, and other items, including recommendations on stopping indoor use of environmentally unfriendly fuels for cooking, heating and lighting purposes.

In going into greater detail, the WHO wrote: “The new ‘WHO guidelines for indoor air quality: household fuel combustion’ stress the need to improve access to cleaner home energy sources such as liquefied petroleum gas, biogas, natural gas and ethanol, or electricity, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

“These new guidelines come after WHO findings earlier this year revealed that more than 7 million deaths – one in eight of total global deaths – are due to indoor or outdoor air pollution exposure. According to the estimates, some 4.3 million people worldwide die every year from household air pollution emitted by rudimentary biomass and coal cookstoves.”

Unfortunately, the number of such deaths appears to be on the increase. In “Indoor air pollution far more problematic than previously suspected,” posted over a year-and-a-half-ago on Apr. 10, noted is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) News Centre press release: “World Health Day: Climate and Clean Air Coalition Targets Indoor and Outdoor Air Pollution.”

Coal bituminous1 300x256 WHO tells us why good air indoors matters
Bituminous coal

In that release, UNEP wrote: “According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the health dangers presented by air pollution are far larger than previously thought. ‘Air pollution is becoming one of the biggest public health issues we have in front of us at the moment,’ Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health and Environment at WHO, said at a recent [Climate and Clean Air Coalition] meeting. ‘The estimations we have now tell us there are 3.5 million premature deaths every year caused by household air pollution, and 3.3 million deaths every year caused by outdoor air pollution.’”

The jump to 4.3 million, up from 3.5 million represents an almost 23 percent gain.

In its “WHO sets benchmarks to reduce health damage from indoor air pollution,” news release, the WHO has delineated by cause, deaths attributable to household air pollution. The diseases and their percentages are:

  • Stroke – 34%
  • Ischaemic heart disease – 26%
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – 22%
  • Childhood pneumonia – 12%
  • Lung cancer – 6%

“These diseases are primarily caused by high levels of fine particulate matter and carbon monoxide released by the burning of solid fuels such as wood, coal, animal dung, crop waste and charcoal in inefficient stoves, space heaters or lamps,” the WHO observed.

That there is a pressing need to significantly reduce the number of premature deaths and disease burden tied to indoor air pollution is obvious.

“The guidelines include emissions targets for different kinds of domestic appliances, for both carbon monoxide and fine particulate matter,” emphasized the WHO in the release. “The targets are the result of years of review of the health impacts of household air pollution emissions and careful examination of the levels by which emissions would have to be reduced in order to meet WHO guidelines for air quality.”

And, as cited in the WHO release, Dr. Neira added: “‘If the new emission targets are met, then some 90% of homes globally will meet WHO’s air quality standards.’”

Groundbreaking fertilizer-based anti- air-pollution program launched

Already well underway is an ambitious agriculture-centric fertilizer-pollution-reducing initiative which aims to improve both air and water quality. No, you’re eyes aren’t playing tricks on you; you read it right – a fertilizer-pollution-reducing initiative.

And, on this, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) offers considerable background and insight.

In “EDF launches initiative to reduce fertilizer pollution from commodity grain crops: Collaborative effort will improve water quality, cut GHGs and reduce supply chain risk,” an EDF press release, made quite clear is: “Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has launched a new, collaborative initiative to eliminate fertilizer pollution as a major environmental concern in the United States. The effort will engage farmers and businesses throughout the supply chain to transform the way fertilizer-dependent grain crops are grown and sourced.”


“The near-term goal of EDF’s Sustainable Sourcing Initiative is to maximize fertilizer efficiency on half of U.S. corn crops by 2020 (approximately 45 million acres), which will cut 25 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and improve water quality,” the EDF noted, and, working in collaboration with “United Suppliers” in Iowa, through the development and implementation of said “fertilizer efficiency program” the “company has committed to optimizing fertilizer use on 10 million acres, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 5 million metric tons and contribute to cleaner water.”

Vice President of EDF, David Festa, in the release emphasized that in meeting a growing demand for food pollution must be decoupled from production, this being done “as soon as possible.”

With much farmland acreage having been taken out of production already – primarily through land fallowing due to ongoing and prolonged drought conditions, particularly in the U.S. west, not to mention that which has been rezoned for residential, commercial and industrial use – that, in and of itself, having a profound effect, learning about goals like those of the EDF’s mentioned above, is like a ray of sunshine poking through a cloud-filled sky.

As a matter of fact, in regards to ag-acreage loss due to land transference for the purpose of providing a platform on which other types of development can occur, such is born out in an article I wrote that graced parts of two pages in the Mar. 2009 Vegetable Growers News issue, said article titled: “San Joaquin Valley deals with development.”

Under the “Startling statistics” article subhead, referred to was the America Farmland Trust study: “Paving Paradise: A New Perspective on California Farmland Conversion,” under which included was an itemized list, two key points being:

  • “More than half a million acres were urbanized during the 1990-2004 period, almost two-thirds of the state’s agricultural land
  • “According to the study: ‘If sprawling development patter ns (sic) continue, another 2 million acres of California land will be paved over by 2050. If, however, the state as a whole develops land as efficiently as Sacramento County or the [San Francisco] Bay Area did in recent years, a million acres of California’s irreplaceable farmland could be saved.’”1

But, being formerly farmed land and then subsequently rezoned and to be used for residential, commercial, industrial purposes, such can, as well, be breeding grounds for contaminated air.

So, to combat the unhealthy and often unsightly nemesis air pollution is, laudable means such as the EDF’s Sustainable Sourcing Initiative, to name but one, should by all means be advanced.

And, added the EDF: “Fertilizer is the engine of agriculture, but its inefficient use is one of the biggest threats to a stable climate and clean water. Nitrogen not soaked up by crops emits a heat-trapping gas 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Phosphorous and nitrogen run-off from fertilizer causes toxic algal blooms that contaminate drinking water supplies and create dead zones,” each of which are serious issues.


  1. Alan Kandel, “San Joaquin Valley deals with development,” Vegetable Growers News, Mar. 2009, pp. 9 & 17.

640px Californias Central Valley Groundbreaking fertilizer based anti  air pollution program launched

It’s not what’s in auto exhaust but what isn’t that matters

In “To encourage greater usage, should ZEV buy incentives be made part of the sales deal,” I referenced the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) “Charge Ahead California Launches Campaign: Diverse coalition aims to put one million electric cars, trucks, and buses on California’s roads” press release.

In the NRDC release itself, meanwhile, is the pronouncement that, “Cars, trucks, and buses are the single largest source of air pollution in California and are responsible for 34 percent of the state’s soot and smog-forming pollution. A recent MIT study found that traffic pollution causes almost 6,000 premature mortalities annually in California, almost twice the number killed in traffic accidents. Four in ten Californians, more than in any other state, live close enough to a freeway or busy road that they may be at increased risk of asthma, cancer and other health hazards. Lower income households in communities of color tend to live closest to heavily trafficked areas and suffer disproportionately.”

360px CBX Parkchester 6 jeh1 e1371323265825 It’s not what’s in auto exhaust but what isn’t that mattersImagine over a third of all state smog-forming and soot pollution stemming from road-based motorized traffic. Meanwhile, in other states, motor vehicle emissions-control regulations may be equally or less stringent than those in the Golden State. Or, emissions-control systems on motor vehicles in other states may or may not be as advanced, effective or efficient as those in California. So, based on this, it is a straightforward premise that smog-forming- and soot pollution coming from the motor-vehicle sector constitutes at least a third or more of all such pollution. That said, the level of pollution coming from this sector of land transportation, not only is it considerable, truth be told, the situation need not be this way at all.

So, in what ways can noxious emissions from road-centric power vehicles be effectively reduced?

As it pertains to the automotive arena, it is right here that a triumvirate of so-called emissions-lowering measures or methods applies.

The first involves finding and instituting effective approaches that involve reducing the amount of per-capita and aggregate on-road vehicle travel.

Then there is the second approach and that is incorporating application of improved automotive-emissions-filtering-system technologies.

The third, meanwhile, is a multifaceted one with greater attention aimed at efforts to improve vehicle efficiency (miles-per-gallon) ratings which can be accomplished through increased utilization of cleaner-burning fuels, fuel blends and with regard to advancements made in motor-vehicle-engine design.

Automotive emissions reduction made as easy as one-two-three.

So cliché, I know.

Bad air: What being in the ‘thick of it’ means

Question: At what concentration in the air does pollution need to be or how extensive an air pollution problem must there be in order to move folk to demand a damaged-air fix?

I believe this to be the quintessential “air pollution” question. First: some relevant perspective.

It is not some unknown that air pollution exists. I see it. I breathe it in and I will go out on a limb by declaring that such has affected my health in some way. I’d be surprised if it hasn’t.

In an earlier post (“Clean air: Not a pressing-enough matter, apparently”), I referenced the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the fallout from that.

“In contrast to and unlike oil spills, the fallout (i.e., associated negative environmental impacts) of such being absolute (evident), with the breathing in of polluted air, on the other hand, there are many variables involved, such as what pollutant(s) is (are) breathed in, and in what context the inhalation of such is considered. For example, what is the pollutant amount inhaled and over what duration of time?”

I opened the above-mentioned post thus: “I can say with a high degree of confidence that when air pollution is viewed as a serious enough problem (taken here to mean that such is viewed by the vast majority of people to be a serious health threat and one of considerable concern) and/or the issue becomes important enough to enough people, then and only then will the quality of our air be brought to a state of healthy repair.”

And in remarking on the 2010 Gulf of Mexico catastrophe specifically, I contended: “Undoing the damage caused by the release of the equivalent of more than 2 million barrels of oil over the 87-day period the fugitive oil spilled, is no easy task – in fact, the cleanup effort is still going on and will probably continue for years to come. Regarding this catastrophe (and others like it), it just goes to show the lengths people are going to turn the tide and fix what went so horribly wrong.”

I just do not see this kind of relentless resolve to comprehensively fix what I deem to be an air pollution crisis.

Question: Could and should more be said about that?

Human respiratory system NIH1 340x226 300x199 Bad air: What being in the ‘thick of it’ means  Unquestionably!

That there are those throughout the world who breathe air considered poor or in a worse state, so it isn’t like air pollution is some foreign or unknown or unheard of notion. People obviously know about such things.

Moreover, while people – those who by circumstance breathe poor or worse air and everyone else who by circumstance do not – have been made and are aware of such, it is, in my view, incumbent upon all to never, ever be satisfied with air pollution’s presence – regardless of extent.

Question: And, as it applies to work in this regard, could more be done to try to improve air condition?

Yes, unequivocally! Finding and implementing the most effective prescriptive mitigating approaches (many have been mentioned in posts on the Air Quality Matters blog) in terms of reducing or eliminating polluted air, regardless of type, in the end is what it all comes down to.

So, with that …

Question: Are enough people or are people in enough places or both paying close enough attention to the air’s deleterious condition?

On the topic, a whole lot has been and is being written and discussed. As it applies talking the talk does not necessarily equate to walking the walk. Or, it could be that in the grand scheme of things, environmentally and/or sustainably speaking – with topics ranging from air pollution and greenhouse gases to climate disruption and more – the air pollution message is simply getting drowned out, which is tantamount to it just being background noise, in other words.

One way I see it is that polluted air is not yet a big enough dot on most people’s radar. I, for one, believe air pollution along with its corresponding and consequential health impact, is an utmost urgent matter, not that climate change/global warming isn’t important; mind you. Furthermore, never, ever lost sight of should be the understanding that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, at least in part, is on account of the burning of fossil fuels, which, by its very nature, is a pollution-producing process itself.

So, to respond, the answer might just be one that at this point is less than decisive.

Question: Where are the air pollution “hot spots” or trouble areas?

The Earth seen from Apollo 171 Bad air: What being in the ‘thick of it’ means  By quantity, in the eastern hemisphere compared to that in the west, air is unhealthier by a factor of almost 2 to 1: of all world premature deaths attributable to polluted air an estimated 65 percent (nearly two thirds) are in Asia and India. Moreover, I think the problem is much, much more apparent in the northern hemisphere than in the one to the south.

Over the past two years of posting here, if you do not already know, much has been mentioned in regard to California’s San Joaquin Valley. As a resident living in what is in essence a “bowl,” an unfortunate consequence of such is the Valley’s propensity to trap pollutants and, believe me, I know of such all too well having, excuse the expression, more than my fill of air of the less-than-good kind and, in this regard, I am not alone, as many, many others – including visitors – I am sure feel likewise. It, therefore, goes without saying that times are numerous where Valley air is not up to snuff.

To go on, adding insult to injury, what the four million or so who call the Valley home, our air – or rather, what is in it – can frequently be seen. Such goes by the names “haze” and “smog” – if you ask me both infamous four-letter words.

Those who are regularly immersed in unhealthy air are, in a manner of speaking, right in the ‘thick’ of things.

Question: Why do people accept a life living with pollution?

I cannot provide a definitive answer but I would attribute this to circumstance and, I would add, I know of at least one family that left the Valley expressly for the purpose of fleeing the bad air that from what I understand led to health issues, the very reason behind the move.

From the above question-and-answer presentation, at the very least I hope I have sparked interest if not provoked additional thought and provided added perspective related to air-quality matters and raised awareness of such.

Upper Image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Lower image above: NASA

Horrendous air or no let the Friday night football games begin

I am fast reminded of the hit song: “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” If this song is indeed about unyielding resolve, then it seems more than appropriate, as it would appear the overarching Friday night sentiment, unhealthy Fresno air or no, was: “Football: bring it on!” Not even the air, as filthy as it was, was going to put a damper on these activities, apparently. I ask: Does the notion: “It is best to err on the side of caution” mean anything to anyone, anymore, I wonder?

To provide background, on Nov. 7th the local air was heavy with fine particulates. How heavy?

In Clovis, a suburb to Fresno’s north and east, for example, the PM 2.5 reading at 12 noon was a very unhealthy 115 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Even at 9 a.m. the level was 92 micrograms (very unhealthy). And, by midnight? It was still at an unhealthy 63 micrograms. As I am writing this, the concentration is 88 micrograms per cubic meter.

Meanwhile, in Central Fresno, the concentration of fine particulate matter spiked to 93 micrograms per cubic meter. The only time air ever dipped into the moderate range was at 8 a.m. when the corresponding reading was 31 micrograms. Between 10 a.m. and midnight air was again unhealthy.

According to an article written by Mark Grossi and Barbara Anderson and posted on The Fresno Bee’s “Earth Log” blog, the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition urged the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to cancel end-of-high-school-season football games. It is presumed the request was made due to the fine-particulate matter concentrations present in area air.

Quoted, meanwhile, by Grossi and Anderson in the Nov. 7, 2014 blog post, is Central Valley Air Quality Coalition steering board member Kevin Hall, a former coalition executive director, who was shocked that student athlete health, from what I understand, was being put unnecessarily at increased risk; this, as I see it, having the appearance that Hall’s message went unheeded by either the representative school districts or regional air board. This is my understanding of things.

Air district Executive Director and Air Pollution Control Officer Seyed Sadredin did, however, express the district has no legal authority to keep a football game from being played, according to what Grossi and Anderson wrote.

What’s more, in a Nov. 7th air district press release, Sadredin was frank. He insisted: “‘Because of abnormal weather conditions, we are experiencing unusually high pollution levels that are dangerous to public health.’”

Added Sadredin in the same release: “‘We are asking the public to refrain from burning and to also reduce driving.’”

But, also in the release was this: “While abnormal weather conditions are the primary cause for the high pollution, any added pollution will make the current conditions even worse.”

That is but the half of it. No less relevant in my opinion are other interviewee responses in the aforementioned Bee blog post.

According to the authors in question, a cross-country coach in the Clovis Unified School District, Bill Buettner expressed that football games will go on as planned, although he had indicated that there was modified cross-county practice. It was not explained what specifically that modified practice consisted of or what was different about it.

Clovis Unified spokesperson Kelly Avants, in the Earth Log post, meanwhile, insisted air conditions were being monitored by the hour and offered that in order for a district game to be cancelled, two back-to-back unhealthy air-monitor readings must occur.

Now, if you’re wondering whether or not occurring were consecutive unhealthy-air readings during the expected time of game play, here are corresponding Clovis Air Monitoring Data PM 2.5 levels (expressed in micrograms per cubic meter) for Nov. 7th as it relates:

  • 6 p.m. – 74 (ROAR LEVEL 4, Unhealthy)
  • 7 p.m. – 76 (ROAR LEVEL 5, Very Unhealthy)
  • 8 p.m. – 68 (ROAR LEVEL 4, Unhealthy)
  • 9 p.m. – 66 (ROAR LEVEL 4, Unhealthy)
  • 10 p.m. – 68 (ROAR LEVEL 4, Unhealthy)
  • 11 p.m. – 65 (ROAR LEVEL 4, Unhealthy)

While I can’t speak for Avants, those listed above look to me to be back-to-back unhealthy air-quality readings.

Just for your information, the monitor for the City of Madera showed a very unhealthy PM 2.5 reading of 144 micrograms per cubic meter of air and occurred at 11 a.m., a LEVEL 5 ROAR LEVEL rating.

Where air quality data, rules could get confusing

It is more than a little confusing – the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s new wood-burning rule.

Eight individual counties make up California’s San Joaquin Valley. For the first time in the Valley and begun on Nov. 1st, is implementation of a new district-wide rule.

In its Nov. 3, 2014 news release: “Air officials issue first fireplace prohibition of season for central, southern counties,” the air district emphasized, “Check Before You Burn No Burning Unless Registered wood-burning curtailments are in effect for Tuesday, Nov. 4 in Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and the Valley portion of Kern counties. It is the first curtailment of the season.

“The daylong mandatory curtailment that prohibits the use of unregistered devices because of poor air quality is in place through midnight Tuesday. The curtailment applies to burning wood, pellets and manufactured fire logs in unregistered residential fireplaces, stoves and inserts, as well as outdoor burning devices such as fire pits and chimineas.” (Emphasis is the air district’s).

The air district issued a similar release on Nov. 4th for north Valley counties.

So, it wasn’t but two days after this “conditional” rule went into effect that the first wood-burning curtailments or prohibitions applied.

Fireplace Burning1 300x225 Where air quality data, rules could get confusingNot surprising since the Valley is known for its sooty wintertime air, not to mention summertime skies that are notoriously smoggy. In fact, 90 percent of soot pollution hanging in the Valley’s wintery air can be attributed to the burning of wood. And, as much as 30 percent of all polluted air this time of the year is on account of the same. Atmospheric inversion layers (typical this time of the year) and area topography (the Valley is bounded on the east, south and west by ranges of mountains) only serve to exacerbate such poor air quality conditions.

Meanwhile, the air district farther on in the release specifies: “There are two exceptions to wood-burning prohibitions: If the residence does not have access to natural-gas service, even if propane is used; or if burning solid fuel is the sole source of heat for the residence.”

Moreover, a new of way of alerting residents as to expected or forecasted air conditions is via so-called “declarations” that have been put in place. These are:

  • “No Burning curtailment: No one can burn at their residence.
  • “No Burning Unless Registered curtailment: Residents must register their emission-compliant wood-burning device with the District by visiting in order to use this device during this declaration.
  • “No Restrictions, Burning Discouraged: If burning is absolutely necessary, residents should use manufactured logs, dry/seasoned wood, pellets or a clean-burning device.”

(Sources: “Air officials issue first fireplace prohibition of season for central, southern counties,” San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, press release, Nov. 3, 2014 and “Air officials issue first fireplace prohibition of season for northern counties,” San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, Nov. 4, 2014).

Relatedly, Mark Grossi in “San Joaquin Valley air turns unhealthy,” in no uncertain terms noted the pollution is particularly problematic in the four Valley cities of Bakersfield, Clovis, Madera and Visalia.

Keep in mind also throughout the entire eight-county region that, declared, is the “No Burning Unless Registered” condition.

Now, as for the confusion, take a look at the air district’s Real-Time Air Advisory Network (RAAN) data for Central Bakersfield for Thursday, Nov. 6th. These are the hourly (as of this writing) PM 2.5 readings (in micrograms per cubic meter of air):

  • 12 a.m. – 77
  • 1 a.m. – 73
  • 2 a.m. – 66
  • 3 a.m. – 66
  • 4 a.m. – 63
  • 5 a.m. – 58
  • 6 a.m. – 68
  • 7 a.m. – 71
  • 8 a.m. – 69
  • 9 a.m. – 103

Notice at no time during these hours was air anything other than unhealthy.

So, conditions in Central Bakersfield being what they are on this (Thursday, Nov. 6th) day, why not the “No Burning” curtailment designation?

Same question regarding Central Bakersfield for Wednesday, Nov. 5th too, especially considering that from 6 p.m. on, PM 2.5 in the air was no less than 65 micrograms per cubic meter.

In both these instances, I fail to see why the “No Burning” restriction wasn’t issued.

So you know, a level of fine particulates of 103 micrograms per cubic meter of air is almost three times that of the federal 24-hour PM 2.5 health standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. Air where PM 2.5 concentrations are above 35 micrograms per cubic meter – corresponding to an Air Quality Index of 100 – is deemed “Unhealthy.” For purposes of the Valley, meanwhile, PM 2.5 at 20 micrograms per cubic meter is the new threshold.

I suspect before the season ends for bans on wood-burning on Feb. 28, 2015, we’ll be seeing many more of these wood-burning bans in effect.

Which ones, though, is the question.

For more on Valley wood-burning issues, see: “Tighter restrictions on wood-burning in Valley could make for cleaner winter air,” “More on AQI and daily Valley wood-burning standard up for vote,” “The Valley’s newest wood-burning rule: more health-protective or what?!” and “EPA sued over LA’s, SJV’s alleged failure to meet fine particle standard.”

640px Californias Central Valley Where air quality data, rules could get confusing


The more serious vehicle-related concern: Crash- or exhaust-induced death?

Dr. David Levinson on his Transportationist blog has what I feel is a rather atypical discussion, in that he compared premature mortality from motor vehicle-sourced air pollution to early death by motor vehicle crash. Unusual though it may be, subject content, I feel, is important.


“Air pollution deaths (premature strokes, heart attacks, lung problems, and so on) on average shortens life by 10 years per person who dies from air pollution. Car crashes are more likely to shorten life of younger persons, hence the greater years of life lost per death,” Levinson astutely observed.

Meanwhile, in the same post Levinson’s colleague Dr. Julian Marshall (an environmental engineer) as cited by Levinson said: “The most useful number to look to, from an overall health standpoint, probably is the DALYs [Disability Adjusted Life Year], since that number includes both mortality and morbidity (death and disease).”

In summing, Levinson wrote: “I would conclude we should fear crashes more than air pollution from traffic, but we should not be sanguine about emissions either.”


While on the subject, let’s not forget also that: “There is a moral imperative to reduce the number of transportation-related fatalities and injuries caused from crashes; okay, I get that. But, the moral imperative to cut, if not eliminate outright, pollution-caused death and sickness, should be just as, if not more, pronounced.” This citation from: “Greater urgency, resolve, cooperation needed to curb pollution.”

Here is my concluding thought: This “moral imperative” idea that I’m talking about, well, to put it bluntly, it isn’t being emphasized nearly enough. Need I say more?