Of lung disease, weather-/air quality-reporting, wood-burning and how it all ties together

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month as so-declared by the Lung Cancer Alliance. Meanwhile, ClimatePlan reports that 20 percent of lung cancer cases in women are non-smoking related.

As it relates, on a local broadcast news service reporting on the weather, the subject of wood-burning came up. It’s a regular feature of the weather reporting this time of the year from this particular broadcast news source.

Fireplace_Burning[1]At any rate, reported was that in many regions located nearby, air quality was going to be or was in the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals” or “Groups” range. Not surprisingly came the message that wood-burning would be allowed provided a federally (EPA) approved wood-burning device was used. Through all other wood-burning means (non-permitted, non-EPA-approved fireplaces, wood-stoves, etc.), the burning of wood would be restricted.

One needs to understand that in California’s San Joaquin Valley where I live, the regional Valley rule regarding the burning of wood as it relates to the Air Quality Index (AQI) or more specifically, the concentration of fine particulates (PM 2.5) in the air is such: When the level of PM 2.5 exceeds 35 micrograms per cubic meter which would correspond to an AQI of 101 or above up to and including 150, then the air is deemed to be in the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals” or “Groups” (the young, the elderly, people with respiratory symptoms or diseases like lung cancer, etc.) range.

In the Valley, though, wood-burning in an approved device is allowed until the PM 2.5-concentration in the air reaches 65 micrograms per cubic meter. Above 65 micrograms, all wood-burning is prohibited – no ifs, ands or buts about it. The limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter has been imposed for all others burning wood using non-approved wood-burning means. Those are the terms specified by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District through its Rule 4901. The exception would be that if there is no other source of heat available in the home meaning there is no natural gas supply line, etc. to the home, then those people affected are also allowed to burn wood in a fireplace, etc., that is, if they have the proper permit, up to a concentration of fine particulates in the air of 65 micrograms per cubic meter. That’s the rule.

So, I got to thinking, okay, so-called “approved” wood-burning is allowed with the quality of the air in the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals” or “Groups” range. Then I got to thinking, why would those with the permitted, EPA-approved appliances, even opt to burn wood with the understanding that neighbors might be among those with respiratory ailments, no matter how clean-burning these devices may be? It goes without saying, or it should anyway, that not all people always comply with the wood-burning curtailments. In which case, increased concentration of PM 2.5 in the air is to be expected. It’s just a fact of life around these parts.

Okay, so, in getting back to the aforementioned weather reporting, it was explained that those who are caught in violation of air district Rule 4901, if it is a first offense, they could either pay the fine assessed or get out of having to pay the fine contingent upon meeting another condition, although it was not spelled out what that “other” condition involved. The presumption, though, is, attending a wood-burning seminar would be ordered.

Truth be told, I believe another factor in the entire equation should come into play, and an intangible one at that, it being to let one’s conscience be one’s guide.

The outlook

I am guessing that because of above-normal daytime temperatures (yesterday’s temperature reached a high of 74 degrees – it wasn’t a record; the record high for Nov. 22nd is 77 degrees), this is the reason I haven’t detected much in the way of wood-burning activity in my neighborhood which, considering the AQI predicted for today being 102 (just into the “Unhealthy for Sensitive Individuals” or “Groups” range for PM 2.5 for this time of the year), is a good thing.

Meanwhile, a cold front is expected to move into the Valley by mid-week bringing with it the likelihood of rain on the Valley floor and snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at the higher elevations. I would naturally expect that wood-burning activity will pick up. Better quality air is also expected with this storm. How much better, well, that remains to be seen (or perhaps more correctly, smelled).

‘Pardon our dust’ or the ‘dirt’ on leaf blowing

Quite familiar to me are those “Pardon-our-dust” signs, warnings – call them what you will. These are most typically found at sites where construction is taking place. In those situations, the creation of “dust” is often unavoidable.

Where I am going with this, well, yesterday, I was in the back yard tending to some yard chores in advance of this year’s predicted wet El Nino, expected to pack a wallop, and send storm after storm landward, and due to arrive with them are uncharacteristically high amounts of precipitation in the form of snow in the mountains and rain at lower elevations (maybe even torrential at times), this the result of warmer-than-usual Pacific Ocean temperatures this year. At any rate, while moving some dirt around and adding potting soil to the shoveled dirt and mixing the two together before reintroducing the mix into the low spots in the ground, I heard the sound of infamous leaf blowing emanating from another back yard nearby. It wasn’t but a second later that this large pall of dirt came drifting over the fence that separates the yard of the neighbor next door from the one where the airborne dirt originated. It had the look of a mini dust-storm.

I watched intently as more and more of the dirt that was adrift in the air moved west over the fence in question mostly to see where it was going. If the direction of the crud that was aloft had changed and was going to head my way, I would have headed in a different direction myself; that is, inside my house, closing the door behind me after getting inside.

Fortunately for me, that never happened. I watched in awe, I’m guessing, for at least three minutes before the pall of dirt lessened in concentration as the gardener doing the “dirty work” and causing such a stir so to speak, ventured farther away from that location, though still engaged in dirt-blowing chores, and presumably in that house’s front yard.

As luck or fate would have it, another yardwork crew set to tackle the yard-grooming of a house located a couple of houses down from where I reside, immediately upon exiting the truck they arrived in, the group began their work blowing more filth into the then already dirt-laden air. In fact, after the lawn mowing part of the operation was done, it was capped off with more of the same. If ever there was a case of an encore dirt-blowing performance, if there is such a thing, this had to be it.


As if this were not enough, a second group of gardeners pulled up in their own truck and parked, in of all places, right behind where the first gardener team parked. Upon the second group of yard-maintenance professionals exiting their truck, you’ll never guess, but the first item on the agenda? None other than dirt-blowing again! For the clueless: these yard machines are called “leaf blowers” for a reason.

I would have to believe that the affected property owners are not around while all of these goings-on are taking place. Otherwise I would have to think that if they witnessed first-hand this sort of dirt-blowing back-and-forth, they would demand that all cleaning up of yard waste be done with brooms, dustpans and rakes.

Oh, and as for the huge pall of dirt sent skyward to the neighbor’s house yesterday (and presumably beyond), well, it too awaits the gardeners’ touch which, by the way, also includes in it, its regular and fair share of dirt-redistributing via leaf-blowing activity, of course. And on and on the airborne-dirt-transference-courtesy-of-the-notorious-air-blowing-process goes.

When it rains it pours, I guess.

EPA detects harmful soot levels on Chicago Union Station platforms


Subsurface enclosed-concourse train stations can be breeding grounds for soot and other harmful air pollution.

Such is the case with some train boarding and alighting platform areas at Chicago’s Union Station, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its Nov. 5, 2015 “EPA Study Finds Elevated Particulate Levels in Air on Train Platforms at Chicago Union Station” press release.

The EPA wrote: “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today released an air quality study that documents elevated concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air on train platforms at Union Station in Chicago. The concentration of PM2.5 in air on the train platforms was 23 – 96 percent higher than concentrations recorded on nearby streets on the days that monitoring was conducted last summer. The study also found that the highest concentrations of PM2.5 occur during rush hours. Higher particulate concentrations were found at the south platforms than at the north platforms, and particulate levels are highest near locomotives.”

“EPA studied air quality at Union Station over a three week period during June and July 2015,” the federal regulatory agency revealed. “Scientists used portable air monitors on publicly accessible platforms to measure concentrations of PM2.5 in the air at various times between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. EPA took similar measurements at street level near the station. EPA conducted 64 platform tests and 35 background tests.”

Exposure to pollution by train passengers and crews at concentrations in some cases 96 percent higher than that which was recorded on station-area streets in the open air outside should be motivation to try to remedy this situation even if such exposure times are short, comparatively speaking.

Sorely lacking at the station, apparently, is adequate ventilation.

Along these lines, “EPA is discussing the results of the study with Metra, Amtrak and representatives of several buildings with ventilation systems that impact air quality at Union Station,” the federal regulator stressed. “Short-term options to improve air quality on the train platforms include optimizing the existing ventilation systems above Union Station and changing operational procedures. Long-term options include installation of additional ventilation systems and measures to reduce particulate emissions.”

If the latter means that locomotive prime mover upgrades significantly reduce the concentrations of harmful air pollutants at platform level are coming down the line, that option should be pursued with a great sense of urgency. The cost of such upgrades, though, may be a limiting factor if money for such modification work is scarce. Time will tell what remedies will be implemented to improve air quality on the train platforms at Chicago Union Station.

Ideally, the best solution of all would be for all trains servicing the depot to be electrified, the source of electricity supplied generated from 100 percent renewable energy.

Union Station train platform, Kansas City, MO
Union Station train platform, Kansas City, MO

Lower image above: Charles O’Rear, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration collection

Volkswagen offers diesel-emissions-deficient-auto customers coupons, cash in redress program

Almost two months have passed since news broke on Sept. 18th of the emissions-altering “defeat-device” scandal affecting an estimated 11 million Volkswagen diesel motor vehicles worldwide. VW is possibly already on the hook for an estimated $7.3 billion as it has to do with redress, independent of and without regard to the outcome of any and all litigation brought against the auto maker in regard to the emissions-doctoring scandal.

In response, the automobile manufacturer in question is apparently offering coupons and up to $500.00 in cash worth $1,000.00 in all to those in the U.S. owning at least one of a sum total of 482,000 yet-to-be-recalled, sold-in-America, so-affected vehicles, no doubt a gesture of good will on the company’s part, this while the automobile builder works to correct the diesel-emissions-deficient situation if not to improve its image in the eyes of the global community. But, is it enough to restore buyer trust and consumer confidence in VW?

In providing comment, meanwhile, the Bee Editorial Board does not seem to be buying much if any of it, countering that Volkswagen should buy back all 11 million motor vehicles identified, that is, if the company wants to truly put things right with customers, as I understand things and, as I see it, this information coming out in a scathing-rebuke-of-an-editorial today. But, is even this the best corrective approach – what, in my minds’ eye, seems excessive.

As to the disposition of all of the affected vehicles, truth be told, there still seems to be nary a definitive resolution. Meanwhile, all 11 million impacted automobiles, presumably, continue to be driven, emitting, in some cases, pollution at levels up to 40 times acceptable or legal limits.

What the automotive manufacturer should instead consider doing is recalling the vehicles with the defeat-device software and issue in their place vehicles that meet emissions requirements or standards – a kind of trade-in scheme – in order that all of the emissions-violating vehicles are removed from circulation, to remain that way until such time that they can be repaired with the appropriate fix, an action which would provide an immediate benefit to the air. This type of approach would, in my opinion, demonstrate to all consumers – not just those who own VW products – that the company is fully committed to instituting a proper remedy to this problem once and for all. In my way of thinking, that would do it. Then, as vehicles had the then implemented repairs performed, these could be returned to their rightful owners and the so-called “loaners” could be relinquished, meaning they would go back to VW.

Should the auto maker not be able to effectively resolve the “defeat device” issue or if in doing so it would be cost-prohibitive, then the customer should either have the option of keeping the “loaner” or be refunded money equal in amount to what was paid for the vehicle when originally purchased; the latter though only as a last resort.

Logistically, collecting the identified emissions-violating vehicles would, on the surface anyway, not appear too difficult a proposition. The space taken up on dealer lots by so-called “exchange” vehicles, could be filled by the emissions-violating ones and these could be hauled away by vehicle transport trucks to designated parking lots for storage to await further disposition (transportation to a location where repairs could be performed), until such time that repairs at dealer/service centers could be made. The collection/redistribution of affected cars would be an interim step.

I believe this is a means in which this whole emissions-doctoring issue could be reasonably addressed and to the satisfaction of all concerned.

California vehicle emissions check: Sub-par- or super-STAR?

This is the second installment of two in this series. As before, individual experiences may vary.

From the first installment, basically, what resulted from the STAR performance test where the initial vehicle emissions evaluation was conducted was that my motor vehicle failed to meet spec. At 15 miles per hour and at a revolutions-per-minute (RPM) rate of 1,562, the vehicle failed in the NOx (oxides of nitrogen) emissions category only. For all other test categories, no problems were found.

Well, today, I drove the car to the shop where the automobile mechanic who performs repairs on the vehicle, works. He advised taking the vehicle to another smog-testing facility to have the automobile smog tested, and that was what was decided.

To put things in context, in the test done initially, the NOx measurement was 521 parts per million (ppm) of air, again at 15 mph and at an RPM rate of 1,562. The maximum allowable NOx limit specified on the print-out is 430 ppm. So, at that speed and RPM the maximum limit for NOx was exceeded.

This time around, at 15 mph and at an RPM of 1,555, the NOx measured 414. Therefore, NOx was well within acceptable limits. As in the previous testing procedure, the vehicle passed in all other categories as well.

So, why the difference?

Could it be that the vehicle was thoroughly warmed up before being subjected to the test? Was there variability in the test equipment at the two different facilities used? Was there a calibrating error? Was it any two or all three of the above? Was it something else entirely? Question is: If this can happen regarding my car, then is the same type of thing occurring in other folks’ vehicles also?

Maybe more importantly, so say, if the reason behind the discrepancy was that the vehicle had not been warmed up sufficiently enough prior to being tested, if this was, in fact, the reason, then what this suggests is that until the vehicle sufficiently warms, it is putting out unacceptable levels of emissions – in this case NOx. If so, is this even permissible?

As I mentioned in the first installment, had I agreed to have the diagnostics performed by the initial facility I took the vehicle to for testing, that would have been a $90.00 charge. I decided not to go that route and instead have the person that does the repair work on my car look over the STAR smog check report. Suffice it to say, no diagnostics testing was required and therefore no engine repairs were necessary. This is the first time I can ever remember something on this order happening.

This concludes this SMOG test chronicle.

For further information on STAR testing, see: “California Smog Check Program gets upgrade with ‘STAR’” here.

California vehicle emissions check: An up-and-coming STAR?

This series chronicles my experience with the STAR vehicle emissions-testing process. Individual experiences may vary.

The renewal registration bill arrived in the mail. Registration must be renewed by Dec. 2. The envelope containing the vehicle renewal notice has a postmark date of Sept. 23, 2015 printed or stamped on it.

On the “Vehicle Registration Renewal Notice” issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles has printed on it on the left side near the top a “STOP” sign symbol and to the right of that are the printed words: “SMOG Certification Required at a STAR station” and in parentheses below that is this message: “See reverse side of notice” where one will find additional related information.

My next move was to go online on the Internet to try to locate a STAR Certified test and/or repair facility in my area that I could take my vehicle to, to have it STAR tested. I referenced a Bureau of Automotive Repair Web site for this purpose. I spent anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes before I was able to locate the representative list I was in search of.

One of the facilities provided was where I had smog-testing done to my vehicle previously, so this seemed the most logical testing concern to take my vehicle to this time too. This would be the first time my vehicle would actually be smog tested using the STAR method. On the previous test of the once-every-two-years test cycle, the date of the then “Smog Check” or “Gold Shield” procedure was Nov. 11, 2013. Using the Smog-Check testing process then, my car passed.

So, on Nov. 9, 2015, somewhere around 1 p.m., I arrived at the same test facility with car for the purpose of undergoing smog testing. I filled out my personal and all pertinent requested information on the associated invoice, provided the car key and proceeded to wait. There were others in the waiting area doing the same. More patrons requesting either testing or work followed. Those waiting who were called to learn their vehicles’ testing outcomes received such. As expected, some vehicles passed; others did not.

When all was said and done, it was my turn. Then came, the news: “Vehicle Fail due to High NOX at 15 mph. Diag $90.00 Parts & Labor Extra.” That just about says it all.

After paying the proper amount for the required test, I inquired as to how long a time the diagnostics testing would take – if I could be provided with an estimate of the time. No definitive response, unfortunately. Instead, the reply that was offered took more of the form of an uncertainty – basically that the time varies. Fair enough.

I was handed my car key and accompanying paperwork, got in my car, started it up and proceeded to drive home.

Once home, my next step was to contact by phone the automobile mechanic that I take my car to, to have repaired when repairs are needed. He will look over the representative SMOG test printout that has all the performance measures listed including the printout from the 2013 evaluation. Could a vehicle tune-up be in store?

SMOG test chronicle: To be continued.

For more information on STAR testing, see: “California Smog Check Program gets upgrade with ‘STAR’” here.

When air turns gray: The visibility factor

Los Angeles basin smog 1972
Los Angeles basin smog 1972

As an East Coast resident all of 19 years at the time, prior to my Los Angeles, Anaheim, Fullerton, San Francisco visit in Sept. 1972 – my first trip to the Golden State – I had little idea of what smog was. I was going to Disneyland to take in all the sensory experiences this amusement park on a grand scale had to offer. Haunted house, Matterhorn, monorail and submarine attractions stand out most in my mind.

On that same vacation, I had also been introduced to the phenomenon of smoggy air that I had so not been familiar with. Visible to my eye was this grayish tinge to the air. At the time, I thought it was no big deal. And when and after arriving in the City by the Bay on the second and last leg of my California visit, any thought of smog entering my mind was at least as far removed as San Francisco was to Los Angeles.

One year later, in fact, I returned to attend college at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly, as it is known more familiarly) in San Luis Obispo. There were several times, in fact, that while in school I paid the southland a visit. The first of these was with a few dorm friends and during the gas “squeeze” of ’73 no less, to attend a concert at the Anaheim Convention Center (I think) put on by the musical combo Emerson, Lake & Palmer – ring any bells? Not only were we treated to a primo performance but a fair dose of polluted air to go with that.

Performing Arts Center, Cal Poly
Performing Arts Center, Cal Poly

However, it wasn’t until my move to Fresno in ’77 working for a home and car audio equipment chain that my witnessing of smog became a regular – if almost daily – occurrence. And, sometime thereafter is when the thought of its presence and harm really hit home.

Which brings me to smog as it pertains to the way it manifests itself in the air in terms of what it does to mar and muck up skies. And, to say that the gunk is a sore sight for the eyes is to put things mildly. I can’t imagine any person who cannot relate.

Meanwhile, it was purely by chance that I learned of an item related to air pollution as it has to do with how clear or clouded air is visibility-wise.

So, there is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document: “The National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particle Pollution – Revised Air Quality Standards for Particle Pollution and Updates to the Air Quality Index (AQI).” The document has a publication date of Dec. 14, 2012.

At any rate, under the “Secondary Standards for Particle Pollution” subheading, are three main bullet points, the third conveying something to the effect that the EPA is depending on the current day-long fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) standard to guard against impairment in visibility. And, this is followed by two subsidiary or subordinate bullet points, the second of which reads:

“In today’s rule, EPA is determining that 30 deciviews is the appropriate target level of protection for a visibility index with a 24-hour averaging time. However, after reviewing public comment on the proposal and further analyzing recent air quality monitoring data, the agency has concluded that the current secondary 24-hour PM2.5 standard will provide visibility protection equal to, or greater than, 30 deciviews.” It’s an interesting metric, in my (pun intended) view, deciviews is.

640px-California's_Central_ValleyBut, in all seriousness, I think people should be able to relate. Living in the San Joaquin Valley and having before lived in Long Beach in Orange County in southern California, it isn’t too difficult in these locations to many times see hazy air conditions; it is self-evident. Just by looking out my front window on mornings, as long as it isn’t foggy, rainy, dusty or cloudy (an overcast sky) and if the concentration of smog in the air is pronounced enough, noticeable in it is that grayish tinge that is associated with smog and sometimes with particulate matter pollution, too, a grayish hue with which many have become so used to seeing.

The point that should not be lost here is that using our sense of sight, even without becoming privy to, for example, Air-Quality-Index-type information, just looking at the condition of the outside air, can provide a reasonably good indication of what air in one’s area is like and, maybe, based on this, one can plan one’s daily activities accordingly.

When the visibility is poor due to murky air, our eyes send our minds a tell-tale message as to the reason why. Our brains should interpret that message thusly: that the air we are inhaling in these circumstances is not all right.

I don’t know about you, but spoiled views and impaired visibility is not something I relish one bit. What I do appreciate, on the other hand, are those days when the vistas, instead of being a sore sight for the eyes, are a sight for sore eyes. More of the latter for everyone, please!

Coos Bay Waterfront
Coos Bay Waterfront

Top image: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Second image from top: Gregg Erickson

Bottom image above: Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

Texas voters approve adding untold; uh, er, make that ‘untolled’ highways

TRE@FWITC[1]The American Public Transportation Association reports that 71 percent of public transportation (transit) ballot measures put before American voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3 (election day in many states), passed. One in Utah is too close to declare one way or another as of this writing, though, according to a second source, the outcome of the measure hinges on remaining absentee ballots yet to be counted. It could presumably go either way, depending.

In Texas, meanwhile, the state will be adding miles, highway-expansion lane-miles actually, the funding to come from state sales tax revenue.

Angie Schmitt at Streetsblog USA writes: “There are a lot of problems with Prop 7, to put it mildly.” [Prop. 7 is an initiative requiring $2.5 billion be raised through revenue from sales tax and used annually on free-use highways – otherwise referred to as “untolled highways”].

“To start with, $2.5 billion is a huge number, but pouring billions into expanding highways to ‘fix congestion’ is an exercise in futility,” Schmitt added. “The wider roads will generate more traffic and soon congestion will be right where it was before, or worse, which is what happened with Houston’s 23-lane Katy Freeway.”

Why voters insist on this model of unsustainability is not only perplexing, but troubling.

Did the voters that approved this ballot measure not know that a 240-mile-long high-speed railway – Texas Central Railway – is planned between Dallas and Houston – with a projected completion date of 2021 – using privately-funded money, while a 30-mile-long high-speed rail line to connect with the Houston-to-Dallas segment is being considered between Dallas and Fort Worth? Relatedly, another privately-financed “higher-speed” passenger train operation, this time All Aboard Florida, connecting Miami with West Palm Beach with later service to Orlando is already in development.

As to why there aren’t more, similar American passenger rail endeavors planned elsewhere, is mystifying, especially when one considers that rail is frequently seen as an investment opportunity, whether we’re talking about heavy-rail commuter, urban/suburban light rail transit and streetcar circulator, or high-speed rail systems used in intercity services. Moreover, most rail systems are kind to the environment and provide an economical alternative that is air-friendlier than either highway or airway travel.

At any rate, getting back to the subject at hand, unlike the Texas and Florida high- and higher-speed railway endeavors, respectively, which depend on private capital for financial support, the highway infrastructure the Lone Star State is to gain, is not following suit. Instead, the Texas citizenry is choosing to foot the bill via a tax on items sold in state. A driver of economic growth per sé? Sorry, not happenin’ here.

There is the expectation on the other hand of the privately-funded railways providing returns on investment. If not, would the Texas Central Railway’s high-speed and the All Aboard Florida higher-speed rail programs have progressed as far as they have? It is doubtful. Generally speaking, railways along these lines, in more cases than not, bring value to the areas served, and around stations, especially.

The Texas highway expansion funding plan, well, instead of sounding like a prescription for success, it sounds more like a prescription for a lot of wheel spinning – that is, going nowhere fast. Imagine agreeing to be self-taxed, the revenue from such tax to be spent on added highway capacity all for the purpose of “temporarily” alleviating congestion. Go figure?!

Image at top: W. R. Howell, Jr.

Officials serious about getting lead out of North Carolina air

Lead in the air is a serious matter. As it has to do with when (and where) present in the air, it is important to rid the air of this extremely unhealthy substance.

Which is why eight years earlier, as it happens, “Clean Air Act standards for lead pollution were formalized,” noted the Center for Biological Diversity (Center) in its “Settlement Reached to Protect Air Quality in North Carolina From Lead Pollution,” press release.

In response, according to the Center, an agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and conservation groups that protects North Carolinians from air polluted with lead – which has until May 31st of next year to come up with a plan for doing just that – was reached.

That the EPA and the State of North Carolina, as the Center duly noted, “have failed to develop a plan to make sure the state maintains healthy standards for lead, which pose serious threats to public health and ecosystems,” all things considered, it remains unclear as to why that is.

Coming to agreement, meanwhile, were the Center, the Center for Environmental Health and the EPA. The settlement was approved by a judge in federal court in the state of California.


The Center further pointed out that “[u]nder the leadership of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, North Carolina, along with other states and the coal-mining industry, sued the EPA last month to oppose the Clean Power Plan, which is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas pollution. In 2014 the state legislature passed, and the Governor signed, the Regulatory Reform Act (Senate Bill 734), which included a provision to limit local governments in the state from setting air-pollution controls on the burning of coal, gas, oil or wood in home-heating devices.”

“‘It’s shameful that the elected officials of North Carolina are working to eliminate environmental protections for the citizens of their state,’ said [Jonathan] Evans,” a Center endangered species and toxics campaign director.

Positive steps

Added Evans in the release: “‘This agreement helps ensure that North Carolinians will be protected from toxic lead air pollution.’”

As part of the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to identify and set for lead and other harmful pollutants, “‘National Ambient Air Quality Standards’,” the Center in the release further stressed and explained, “[l]ead, which does not break down in the environment, is an extremely toxic element that threatens human health, especially children’s. It disrupts their development, causing slow growth, development defects and damage to the brain and nervous system. Ecosystems near lead sources experience decreases in biodiversity and ecosystem production, and increases in invasive species.”

Outcome of Valley’s newest wood-burning rule looking promising so far

Back on September 19, 2014 I put up the post: “The Valley’s newest wood-burning rule: more health-protective or what?!

In that post I offered, “If you remember from my earlier post ‘Tighter restrictions on wood-burning in Valley could make for cleaner winter air,’ I spelled out the specifics as to how the rule could work.

Fireplace_Burning[1]“‘The air district may decide to tighten wood-burning restrictions making it illegal to burn wood in either a fireplace or woodstove whenever PM 2.5 concentrations are expected to rise above the 20-micrograms-per-cubic-meter-of-air level. The exception: for those with federally certified wood-burning appliances and for residents whose living spaces lack a connection to a natural gas line and therefore rely on a wood-fire for heat instead, for both, under the proposed new rule, via a special permit, wood-burning above the daily 20-micrograms-per-cubic-meter level up to 65 micrograms per cubic meter inclusive would be allowed. Above 65 micrograms, all burning would be prohibited.’”

“I also mentioned that ‘In the Valley during wintertime … as much as 30 percent of fine particulate pollution can be tied to residential wood-burning activity, … .’”

In case you’re wondering which air district and rule, the former is the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the latter, Rule 4901.

Here is some of what the air district wrote regarding the rule in its “Report to the Community: 2014-15 Edition” annual report.

On this in the “Message from the Air Pollution Control Officer” section, Air Pollution Control Officer and Executive Director Seyed Sadredin writes:

“As we look back at 2014, the adoption and implementation of the new residential wood burning program was, by far, the most significant legislative action taken by the Board. The amendments achieve huge reductions in dangerous wood smoke emissions by significantly curtailing the use of older, dirtier devices, while rewarding Valley residents who have invested in cleaner wood-burning units with more days when they can use their devices. The District also invested more than $6 million to assist in Valley residents’ transition to cleaner devices. The rule and incentive program continue to be one of the least costly and most health-protective measures, reducing pollutants when and where most needed.”

So, how effective has the rule been in improving the quality of Valley air between Nov. 1, 2014 and Feb. 28, 2015 when the rule was in effect, that is, compared to when the rule was not in force – that would be for the same period one year earlier. Has it made a difference in terms of winter Valley air improvement? Incidentally, for the 2015-2016 wood-burning season the rule in the Valley goes into effect beginning tomorrow.

Here are some representative numbers:

Before current rule (Nov. 1, 2013 – Feb. 28, 2014):

  • Good air days = 3
  • Moderate air days = 46
  • Unhealthy air days = 71
  • Total non-good (moderate and unhealthy combined) air days = 117

With current rule in force (Nov. 1, 2014 – Feb. 28, 2015):

  • Good air days = 8
  • Moderate air days = 56
  • Unhealthy air days = 56
  • Total non-good (moderate and unhealthy combined) air days = 112

This doesn’t tell you all you need to know.

For example, the good air-quality average – and we’re talking for fine particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5) for the Nov. 1, 2014 to Feb. 28, 2015 period was 9.96 micrograms per cubic meter of air, while the good air-quality average for the Nov. 1, 2013 to Feb. 28, 2014 period was 9.93 micrograms per cubic meter.

Meanwhile, for the period between Nov. 1, 2014 and Feb. 28, 2015, the moderate air-quality average was 24.08 micrograms per cubic meter compared to the 24.72 micrograms per cubic meter for the Nov. 1, 2013 to Feb. 28, 2014 period.

Furthermore, between Nov. 1, 2014 and Feb. 28, 2015, the air-quality average for unhealthy air was 55.75 micrograms per cubic meter. This compares to a Nov. 1, 2013 to Feb. 28, 2014 air-quality unhealthy-air average of 59.21 micrograms per cubic meter.

And, finally, combining the moderate and unhealthy air-quality averages, for the period from Nov. 1, 2014 to Feb. 28, 2015, the, what is herein being referred to as the “non-good air-quality average,” it was 39.91 micrograms per cubic meter versus the non-good air-quality average for the time between Nov. 1, 2013 and Feb. 28, 2014 which weighed in at 45.65 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

The data1 clearly show that during the time the new wood-burning rule was in effect, there were more good and more moderate, but fewer unhealthy and fewer total non-good air-quality days than there were during the period when the new wood-burning rule was not in force.

Regarding all of the “air-quality averages” data, with the exception of the good category, the air fared better pertaining to the pollutant PM 2.5 during the period when the new rule was in effect compared to when it was not. With regard to the good air-quality average, it was close.

So, maybe something can be said for this new rule.

At this point it may be too early to draw any type of definitive conclusion, though the data does look promising so far.


  1. California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board, AQMIS2 San Joaquin Valley Air Basin, Daily Average PM25 at Highest Site, for years 2013-2015.