Why reporting accurately air quality information is crucial

Exhibit A

In the Fresno Bee article: “Valley air officials aim to cool down decades-old smog problem,” environmental reporter Mark Grossi wrote: “In sweltering September 2011, Fresno could have used more trees. Temperatures climbed, winds died and lung-searing ozone spiked the season’s highest readings on three days.

“Worse yet, all three peaks broke the one-hour federal ozone standard between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on weekdays when children were outside after school.”

Exhibit B

Meanwhile, in the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (District) document: “Report to the Community 2013-14 Edition” (Report), I found this:

SMOG   NARA   542581.tif1  200x300 Why reporting accurately air quality information is crucial“The attainment test for the 1-hour ozone standard of 0.12 parts per million is based on the number of exceedance days per year, averaged over a three-year period. In other words, if an air monitoring site has three or fewer exceedance days in a three-year period, then it meets the standard. If a single site violates the standard, the entire San Joaquin Valley is then in violation of the 1-hour ozone standard.”

To this the District in the Report added: “Special issues such as transboundary ozone from Asia, the District’s ozone saturation study to address the Arvin monitoring station relocation, and an exceptional event whereby the Valley experienced an exceedance of the 1-hour ozone standard due to a large industrial fire and wildfires will also be addressed.”

Exhibit C

So, on Feb. 5, 2013 in “A California air quality progress report” I wrote: “The two regions with the highest concentrations of ozone and particle pollution are the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley air basins.

“CAPCOA [California Air Pollution Control Officers Association] in its [April] 2012 [‘California’s Progress Toward Clean Air’] report, provides summary data regarding each of the state’s 35 air districts.

“In the San Joaquin Valley, for example, during summer 2011, there were far fewer ozone exceedance days of the federal one-hour standard (a total of three) than there were in both 1996 when there were 56 and in 2002 when the Valley experienced 30.”

It should be noted and to reiterate, this is according to CAPCOA in its April 2012 report.

Exhibit D

Now enter the District document on August 15, 2013 titled: “Item #7: Update on Ozone Air Quality Progress and Air Alert Initiative.” This document appears to be number 7 of a series.

On page 7 which is titled: “1-hour Ozone Progress,” there are three bullet points, the middle one worded as such: “2012: 3 days over standard, 7 hours over standard.” On the following page (page 8) the title of which is: “1-hour Ozone Progress (cont’d)” displayed is a graph and at the top of the graph there is this notation: “# of Days with Exceedances Somewhere in Valley.”

From the bar graph (the bars themselves colored blue), the relationship is such that the bar for year 2012 (the last year shown) is shorter than the bar for year 2011. If the bar for year 2012 represents 3 exceedance days of the 1-hour ozone standard, then by the process of deductive reasoning the bar for year 2011 would be greater than 3 exceedance days. How much greater in my opinion cannot be determined because no numerical values are assigned to the bars themselves, but it is clearly less than 5 exceedances. For what it is worth, the length of the bar for year 2011 appears to match exactly the length of the bar for year 2007.

Then there is the supporting data on page 11 in the form of a table, the page heading reading: “County 1-Hour Ozone Exceedances.”

The number of “County-Days” exceeding the one-hour ozone standard for the years given are as follows:

  • 2007 – 3
  • 2011 – 3
  • 2012 – 2

However, as it has to do with Fresno County, in the 2012 column there is an asterisk next to the number 2. And under the table in question there is this explanation: “*Exceptional Event pending for exceedance day.”

Closing statement

All of this seems more than a little confusing. As I see it, there is, based on the information presented, some disagreement regarding the referenced reporting of one-hour ozone standard air quality data for the San Joaquin Valley for years 2011 and 2012.

It goes without saying agreement in this respect is crucial.

Finally, for some additional perspective, since 2010, Valley motorists and Valley-based business owners have been on the hook to pay an annual $29 million penalty as per federal law all on account of violation of the one-hour ozone health standard. The fine is lifted if the standard is met. More importantly, meeting the standard is a reflection of area air improving. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with making the determination that the Valley is or is not in attainment.

Image above: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Flagstaff, Arizona

The sixth in this series.

Flagstaff, Arizona is one “amazing” city. I say that because each and every time I visit I continue to be awed. There is just something about Flagstaff.

A mountain community where two major highways cross (Interstates 17 and 40), Flagstaff is situated south of the Grand Canyon’s south rim at an elevation of 6,910 feet above sea level.

Home to Northern Arizona University, the town and its environs have a real “down-home” or “homey” and rustic feel. San Francisco Peaks loom in the background. Ponderosa Pine trees blanket the area and there is the unmistakable scent of pine wafting in the air, seemingly ever-present no matter where in town one might be. I’m not saying other places noted for their pine trees don’t likewise share this same characteristic but, frankly, Flagstaff wouldn’t be Flagstaff without it, if you get my drift.

DSCN2761 340x255 300x225 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Flagstaff, Arizona
San Francisco Peaks seen from east of Flagstaff, Arizona

And speaking of drifts, I was driving in the area once right after it had snowed and I distinctly remember how the wind-blown drifts had kept me very vigilant. It got scary at times never knowing from one moment to the next if I was going to be caught in one, of the drifts, that is. One of those white-knuckle moments if ever there was one.

Interestingly, a sound I associate with the town itself is that of an Amtrak train whistle as it was during one of my earlier visits and right around sun up that I could hear that quite distinctive, yet melodic- and easy-on-the-ears-sounding train horn which seemed just to permeate through town.

Located not far away and to the south is an area known for its red rock cliffs and, well, rock outcroppings: Sedona. Majestic would be the way I would describe it, a magnet for both artist and art lover alike. And, if you are into bridges, just outside of town there is a high one spanning the popular Oak Creek. The whole area is where in my opinion the rugged beauty of the American West is displayed in all its glory.

With such unparalleled and captivating scenery, there is only one thing I can think of to top even that, that is, if such could be topped: the local air. Personally, I am hard-pressed to think of other places where air is better.

Along the route of the former Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway) and, of course, on a now famous Route 66 (immortalized in song and popularized in a made-for-T.V. hit series of the same name), in many, make that, most respects Flagstaff, Arizona is terra haute to the hilt.

Calif. air cleaner despite more people, more miles driven, more gas burned. The road ahead?

Fact: California has some of the worst air pollution in all of North America. Add to this that population and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have grown. There would seem a connection. Meanwhile, the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB) projects the growth in both population and VMT will continue.

From the ARB’s “California Almanac of Emissions and Air Quality – 2013 Edition,” data in Appendix C-1 shows both California population and total vehicle travel miles. For year 2010, state population is 37,309,382 people while average daily vehicle miles traveled (ADVMT) is 953,029,000. This compares to a state population in 1990 of 29,828,496 people and ADVMT of 655,348,000. Projections are such that by 2015, state population will swell to 38,801,063 and ADVMT will increase to 1,013,538,000, close to double the 1990 ADVMT.

Analysis: Based on year 1990 and 2010 comparisons, state population grew 25 percent in 20 years’ time while ADVMT had risen by more than 45 percent. This clearly shows that ADVMT outgrew population growth by a factor of almost 2 to 1 in the span of just two decades.

If you recall, in “Annual per-capita California driving 1.5 times the national average,” I noted there are 22 million licensed motorists statewide logging over 300 billion yearly miles, 15 billion gallons of gasoline being consumed in the process by 27.5 million “cars and light trucks.”

As I pointed out also, per capita, California drivers are registering 13,636 miles per year. Assuming that holds steady and at an average per-person gasoline consumption amount of 681.81 gallons of gas and at an-average-miles-per-gallon rating of 20, at 1,013,538,000 average daily vehicle miles traveled, this would result in an average daily vehicle fuel consumption rate of 50,676,900 gallons. Over the entire year, this amounts to 18,497,068,500 gallons of fuel being consumed. Up from 15 billion gallons of fuel consumed, this represents a 23.3 percent increase.

Hydrogen station pump1 Calif. air cleaner despite more people, more miles driven, more gas burned. The road ahead?There is a mandate in place via the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32) and the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (Senate Bill 375), to help California clean up its air act. At the same time, it is important to note that if vehicle mileage is going up, then motor vehicles must become cleaner burning and far more fuel efficient through the use of cleaner-burning fuels and/or through technological improvement, this coupled with increased numbers of zero emissions vehicles plying roadways and/or a significant shift in the way land and resources are used as it has to do with sustainability and/or a greater reliance on walking, biking and public transportation, that is, in order for those bills’ emissions targets to be met. Improvement progress needs to be ongoing.

As it relates, elaborating on the present and in terms of what could be on the horizon, the ARB in “Background Material: Almanac of Emissions and Air Quality 2013 Edition - Chapter 4 Regional Trends and Forecasts,” goes into far greater air-basin detail concerning the five named regions outlined in “Chapter 1: Introduction.”

Can we Californians continue to do what is necessary to effect further progress? We can. The other question is: Will we?

Should American freight/passenger rail go their separate ways?

Calling for separate if not equal passenger- and freight-train-operating platforms

amtrak train kandel Should American freight/passenger rail go their separate ways?As a person who pays close attention to railroad happenings, in particular to those in the U.S. and those proposed or planned high-speed-rail systems here as well as those under consideration, those under construction and those built and operating systems elsewhere, I know when I smell a rat.

I’ve been reading where Amtrak – America’s national passenger rail carrier – has been suffering delays, resulting, in fact, in a 74 percent on-time performance rating overall, that is, during fiscal year 2014 which began Oct. 1, 2013.

I can say unequivocally that much of the delay is outside of Amtrak’s direct control. Keep in mind that a good number of Amtrak trains are dispatched by non-Amtrak railroad personnel. The reason for this is that on lines where the national passenger rail carrier is the tenant these trains fall under the dispatching jurisdiction of host railroad dispatch employees. Amtrak trains, I would presume to be the case, were once given operating priority over freight trains on freight rail lines where America’s passenger train operates. But, according to what I read in one source, a recent court ruling has resulted in this no longer being true.

The delay itself can have a ripple effect: lower ridership and consequently lower revenue, not to mention, potentially, a scaling back of passenger train service at best, and outright annulment of such service at worst. I hold firm and fast to the notion that this is not what Amtrak or America needs or wants, especially right now when the company has been experiencing record ridership volumes.

To be fair, some of the delay can be attributed to inclement winter weather. But winter is long gone and the chronic less-than-stellar on-time performance rating remains.

Delay affecting Amtrak trains can be found both on and off its own network of rails. In fact, on Amtrak’s very own Northeast Corridor – the Boston to D.C. service lane – the story is much the same, according to the same unnamed source referenced above.

Train 300x207 Should American freight/passenger rail go their separate ways?Now, y’all may be asking yourselves what any of this has to do with air quality. Think of it this way: when a diesel-locomotive-hauled train in single-track territory is dispatcher-directed into, say, for example, a passing siding to allow a higher-priority train roll on past, the locomotive(s) on the stopped train in question are typically not shut off during times of waiting. The locomotive(s), even in idle mode, still produce exhaust. The longer the wait, the more exhaust emitted into the air. Therefore, the key to reducing that “added” and, yes, “unnecessary” pollution is in minimizing the “unwanted” delay which means optimizing operations.

So you know, nowhere in my reading related to this issue lately has anyone suggested dedicated railroad rights-of-way as a means to fill the bill, the sole purpose of which would be to provide passenger trains an unencumbered platform on which to operate. Maybe I’m expecting a lot considering that in this and most countries private passenger- and goods-movement vehicles share roadway space. Maybe a rethink of this approach is in order, and not just as applied to roadway use but in terms of railroad usage too.

Oh, and incidentally, I mentioned in chatting with friends just this week in fact, that, if anything, one would think the freight railroads would, to use railroad jargon, be all aboard.

train 2 kandel Should American freight/passenger rail go their separate ways?What’s more, and as it relates, you’d think freight railroads that host passenger trains would prefer not to have to deal with them. After all, it was half-a-century ago that the U.S. freight railroad industry by and large begged to be relieved of its passenger-carrying responsibility. In so doing, freed-up track space would enable freight railroads to concentrate on the thing they do best – run freight trains.

America deserves better: separate if not equal passenger- and freight-train-operating platforms. Not only is it high time, it’s about time!

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Long Beach, California

The fifth in this series.

Home to the permanently docked RMS Queen Mary and the Long Beach Grand Prix in April, Long Beach, California in Orange County, sits to the south of Los Angeles in Los Angeles County.

320px Los Angeles Basin JPLLandsat1 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Long Beach, CaliforniaSo, why profile Long Beach for this “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour” series and not the bigger and more famous and more air-pollution infamous Los Angeles? Well, I don’t think I’ve ever spent 24 solid hours in L.A., the major southern California metropolis that it is. Close – I’ve spent nearly that much time there but it wasn’t quite 24 hours, which, happens to be the criteria I selected for being included in this series. But, this wasn’t the only reason why I picked the Orange County community.

From 1987 to 1988, I resided in both Long Beach and its neighbor Seal Beach. I landed a part-time teaching position at the university – California State University, Long Beach as an adjunct instructor in the Engineering and Industrial Technology Department. I must admit, it was hands down the best teaching assignment I’ve ever had, even if only lasting a year. I taught classes in Direct Current principles and practices (laboratory experience), Alternating Current principles and practices and Digital principles and practices. I would be totally remiss if I failed to mention I had, by far, the best students of all academic teaching assignments I have ever had. So, you see, how could I have a “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-air’ tour” entry (post) and not include Long Beach? It’d be like having cereal without milk, bread minus the butter or cake that’s missing the icing.

For those of you familiar, you are already aware Long Beach has a harbor; a huge harbor – part of the sprawling Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles ports complex. The area has plenty of industry – much of it heavy, freight rail traffic, lots of freeways and a section of the famed Pacific Coast Highway otherwise known as PCH or California Highway 1, Long Beach Airport, and an alternative to vehicle travel in the form of a light rail line (the Blue Line) which terminates there, it opening its doors to the public in 1990. And, as I already mentioned, there is the university, Signal Hill replete with oil derricks, and unfortunately, smog. With the traffic, port-related activity and an oil refinery located nearby, it is completely understandable.

Working at Cal State Long Beach and living partly in the South Land community and partly in Fresno in California’s San Joaquin Valley and commuting between the two week in and week out, the four-and-a-hour to five-hour drive to and from was laborious. If I did not time it just right, it was traffic city. The 405 freeway was a virtual parking lot, from the 405/101 interchange all the way to right about where the airport in Long Beach was located. That four-and-a-half to five-hour trip when freeways weren’t jammed packed with traffic could easily turn into a six-to-seven-hour commute when it was. Remember, this was in the late ‘80s. I can’t imagine it being much different today.

To get away from the “hustle and bustle” of city life, I once boarded a ferryboat to Santa Catalina Island; about a 25-mile trip west off the mainland. When I arrived there, you could tell the atmosphere was way more relaxed and there wasn’t the smog I had grown used to onshore. Another day trip took me to Cajon Pass situated between San Bernardino and Victorville, probably about a 50-mile trip on Interstate 15/215. The time that I went, the region was enveloped in smog until ascending the pass where the polluted skies opened up to clear ones which made for a welcome sight. It was like a breath of fresh air. What am I talking about?! It was a breath of fresh air – in fact, many breaths! What does one do in Cajon Pass? Watch trains, of course! Those who know the area know exactly what I’m talking about. These side trips made for nice breaks from what would otherwise be considered routine.

Oh, and one more point regarding one of the approximately 250-mile drives I made in traveling between the Central Valley and South Coast regions: Snow on the Grapevine (Interstate 5) forced a lengthy detour once: I took Highway 41 and 41/46 between Fresno and Paso Robles (El Paso De Robles, to be more precise), four-wheeling it down Highway 101 where it connected with the 405 and on into Long Beach that way. Yes, it was out of the way and took an extra two hours. Even though I made it to one of my classes late, a fellow employee and good friend was there to administer the test I had prepared ahead of time.

This 828-word narrative, if not exactly the “long and short” of Long Beach air and the Great Western City of 462,257 people strong (as of 2010) this city is, it’s close.

Image above: NASA

San Joaquin Valley air quality improvement reflected in annual report

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (District) has rolled out its “Annual Report to the Community 2013-14 Edition” (Report).

From the Report on page 3, there is this: “For the first time in recorded history, the San Joaquin Valley in 2013 had zero violations of the hourly ozone standard established under the federal Clean Air Act, down from 281 violations in 1996. In 2004, EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] classified the Valley as ‘Extreme’ non-attainment for this standard, meaning that reaching the standard, at that time, was deemed impossible. San Joaquin Valley is the first and only region in the nation with ‘Extreme’ classification to attain the standard.”

As encouraging as this news appears, there is more to this than that which is presented above.

For example, “The District’s request for an attainment finding by EPA will include extensive technical support information. Special issues such as transboundary ozone from Asia, the District’s ozone saturation study to address the Arvin monitoring station relocation, and an exceptional event whereby the Valley experienced an exceedance of the 1-hour ozone standard due to a large industrial fire and wildfires will also be addressed,” the District added.

What all this tells me is that the San Joaquin Valley has only “unofficially” attained the standard meaning the extra $12 added to my yearly vehicle registration fee I pay as a result of Valley 1-hour standard ozone non-attainment, will remain in effect, that is, until such time it is “officially” declared said standard attainment has been realized. In all, Valley motorists are responsible for coughing up $25 million yearly all due to non-attainment of the standard.

For more perspective on this, see: “No end in sight to Valley, fed old ozone standard fight.”

Okay, that’s just regarding the 1-hour standard. What about the 8-hour national ozone health standard? How is the Valley faring in this regard?

In this case there are two different standards to consider: the 1997 standard of 84 parts per billion of ozone and the 2008 standard of 75 parts per billion of ozone, the latter of course being the more healthful or more stringent of the two standards.

According to Report data, the Valley had about 400 what are called “County Days” exceeding the 1997 federal 8-hour ozone standard in 2002 and dropped to approximately 240 such exceedances in year 2008. Hence, there has been improvement.

As it has to do with the 2008 federal 8-hour ozone standard, that year in the Valley there were around 425 such exceedances, decreasing to right around 275 “County Days” exceedances in 2013.

In both cases, the decline has not been linear. Between 2002 and 2013, regarding “County Days” exceedances in ozone pertaining to both the 1997 and 2008 standards for the Valley, it’s been an up-and-down trend. For more on this, see “Ozone Trends” on page 7 of the Report.

Ozone is one thing. Now keep in mind that the problematic pollutant of note during winter is fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). Wood-smoke from fireplaces and woodstoves and farming activities are two primary PM 2.5 sources. Other inputs according to the Air District include road and fugitive wind-blown dust, heavy-duty diesel truck and other mobile source exhaust, smoke from the burning of agricultural waste as well as that produced from other stationary sources. For more, see: “Sources of Pollution” in the Report on page 43. Other pollutants and their listed sources are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

On particulate matter, the “PM2.5 Trends” to pay particularly close attention to in my view are: “Annual PM2.5 Design Value Trend” and the “County Days over Federal 24-hr PM2.5 Standard (Nov – Feb).”

Regarding the former, between 2002 and 2013, the overall trend is negative. In 2002, the “Annual PM2.5 Design Value Trend” reading was roughly 23 micrograms per cubic meter of air. This declined to approximately 19 micrograms per cubic meter in 2005 and then remained that way again in 2006 before peaking at about 22.5 micrograms per cubic meter in 2009 before falling to roughly 16 micrograms per cubic meter in 2012. However, due to meteorological factors in 2013 (read: “many, many days where the air was stagnant”) apparently, the “Annual PM2.5 Design Value Trend” reading for that year was just above 18 micrograms per cubic meter. Not at one time between 2002 and 2013 did the readings drop below the 1997 PM 2.5 standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The standard for 2013 is even more stringent: 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Meanwhile, for the “County Days over Federal 24-hr PM2.5 Standard (Nov – Feb),” in 2002-2003, there were almost 50 days where that standard was exceeded while in 2005-2006, there were easily over 60 days where the 1997 standard of 65 micrograms per cubic meter of air was breached, and this is between the months of November and February only (Nov. 1 to Feb. 28). With a more stringent standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air in effect in 2006, the up-and-down story was repeated. In 2006-2007, the number of “County Days over Federal 24-hr PM2.5 Standard (Nov – Feb)” was roughly 340. This dropped to around 155 in 2010-2011, rising to just above 250 in 2011-2012 and then sharply retreated to about 140 such days in 2012-2013. For more on this, see: “PM2.5 Trends” in the Report on page 8.

640px Californias Central Valley San Joaquin Valley air quality improvement reflected in annual report

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: San Luis Obispo, California

The fourth in this series.

For California cities, I can think of no better example than San Luis Obispo for inclusion in the “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour” series. Reason being, San Luis Obispo – “Spanish for St. Louis, the Bishop [of Toulouse]” – is one of this nation’s most environmentally conscious towns – in my opinion, of course. As far as I’m concerned, in this sense SLO (short for San Luis Obispo) has few equals – in California or anywhere else in the U.S. for that matter.

320px Cal Poly performing arts center1 300x199 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: San Luis Obispo, California
Performing Arts Center, Cal Poly

Situated roughly midway between the sprawling Los Angeles and the no-less-so San Francisco Bay Area Metroplexes, my first introduction to the California Central Coast region and San Luis Obispo specifically was in September 1973. What I was doing there then was to attend college at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly). Arriving by plane and upon alighting, for a young man all of 20 years old, it was one of those “love-at-first-sight” experiences.

In painting a more accurate picture, today SLO is an idyllic town, and just so happens to be surrounded by foothills on all sides with a population as of 2010 of 45,119 people, that is, according to Wikipedia.

Anyone who has a love of the outdoors would be right at home in SLO. Quite comfortable in terms of temperatures and humidity levels and located just a short distance from Pacific Ocean-abutted communities such as Cayucos and Morro Bay (Morro Strand, actually) to the north and Avila Beach and Pismo Beach to the south, to name but four, San Luis Obispo is a running, biking and hiking paradise.

There are shopping centers, sure, but there is also a flourishing, inviting, welcoming downtown; what I would call easy-going or laid-back that just happens to be teeming with pedestrian activity much of the time. It doesn’t hurt that running through it all is a meandering water course known as San Luis Creek – an attraction in its own right. Besides Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (one of 21 California Missions scattered along both the coast and Highway 101 – a highway variously named as “Ventura Highway” and “El Camino Real” or “The Kings Highway”), there is another downtown people magnet of note: the famed “gum wall.”

Now, not only has the buzzword notion of sustainability become a hit with town residents with practices like bike-sharing, car-sharing, and businesses sans drive-through windows at local eateries, pharmacies and what-not, surcharges on grocery-store-provided plastic and paper shopping bags, and sustainable development approaches with regard to in-town residential and commercial building and construction, but the university has caught the “green fever” also. Cal Poly is one of the more green campuses in my opinion with its methane digester system for an on-site dairy and its adoption of and participation in community supported agriculture (CSA) and algae-to-biofuel conversion programs, these, of course, in the company of other related programs and practices.

Meanwhile, back on May 28, 2014 in “Helping improve air, land, water the SLO Chamber way,” I wrote: “The building the Chamber occupies is LEED Certified,” referring, of course, to San Luis Obispo’s quite aesthetically-pleasing-looking Chamber of Commerce building.

Desiring to gain a better understanding of just what LEED Certification is about, I contacted U.S. Green Building Council Media Specialist Jacob Kriss who, in an email, wrote: “LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the world’s foremost program guiding the design, construction, operations and maintenance of healthy, high-performing green buildings. To date, there are more than 22,000 LEED-certified commercial and institutional projects, and there are nearly 58,000 housing units certified under the LEED for Homes rating system. Every day, 1.7 million square feet of real estate is LEED certified, and there are LEED projects in 153 countries and territories worldwide. LEED buildings provide healthier indoor environments for students, workers, homeowners and community members; save money for building owners through reduced energy and water bills; and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.”1

Oh, and as for air quality, while not for San Luis Obispo per se, the American Lung Association did, however, provide air quality data for all of San Luis Obispo County. In regard to “High Ozone Days,” the county was given a failing grade, F, and in which it recorded 33 days where air was “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” With respect to the “Particle Pollution – 24 Hour” category, the outcome was better; the county received a grade of C whereby only three exceedances were recorded. And, for “Particle Pollution – Annual,” the county earned a passing grade. For more on this, go here.

All in all, quite admirable if I do say so myself!


  1. Jacob Kriss, Media Specialist, U.S. Green Building Council, personal communication, Jul. 8, 2014.

Image above: Gregg Erickson

July 4th fireworks cause spike in San Joaquin Valley PM levels

In a Jul. 2, 2014 San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (Air District) two-page news release, on page 2 there is a graph. This graph shows July 4th – Independence Day – fine particulate matter pollution (PM 2.5) levels over a 24-hour period.

More specifically, the illustration shows the concentration in fine particle pollution on Jul. 4, 2011 in Turlock, California, a community located in the northern San Joaquin Valley (Valley). Normally, PM 2.5 is not the pollutant of concern in the Valley during summer months, but ozone is. Measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air, the national health standard for fine particulate matter is 35 micrograms per meter cubed (ug/m3).

Also from the graph, PM 2.5 readings between zero and approximately 15 micrograms per cubic meter correspond to an air quality index of 50 and below or air quality that is in the “good” range.

Well, to provide some perspective, at midnight (between Jul. 3rd and Jul. 4th) PM 2.5 was at roughly 20 micrograms per cubic meter or in the “moderate” range. By 6 a.m., air quality in this sense had improved with PM 2.5 dipping below 15 ug/m3, the corresponding quality of air being good. Between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m., air quality oscillated between good and moderate, the air being more good than it was moderate over that span of time.

450px San Diego Fireworks 225x300 July 4th fireworks cause spike in San Joaquin Valley PM levels
Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org

By 10 p.m., PM 2.5 had reached levels that were very near 140 ug/m3 of air: or in the “very unhealthy” category, with a corresponding Air Quality Index Value of what appears to be in excess of 200. One hour later, at 11 p.m. that pollution peaked at a level greater than or equal to 150 ug/m3 with a corresponding Air Quality Index Value of at least 214. At midnight, PM 2.5 pollution levels slid back into the “unhealthy” range to right around 115 micrograms per cubic meter and a corresponding Air Quality Index Value of what looks to be right around 182. The title above the graph in question reads: “Typical PM pattern on July 4.”

Here are some of the harsh realities regarding July 4th fireworks activity in the Valley:

“Fireworks emit large quantities of PM, including soot, ash and metals, which cause serious health impacts, especially to people with existing respiratory conditions, elderly people and small children,” the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District notes.

The Air District further states, “Fine particulate matter – PM 2.5 – can invade the bloodstream and has been linked to heart attacks and stroke.”

And, depending on meteorological conditions and other factors, the spike in PM levels in Valley communities on account of Jul. 4 pyrotechnics displays could very well be adding to an already precarious area air condition so typical during summer months. We’re talking smog.

Meanwhile, in a Bakersfield Californian editorial, op-ed writer Lois Henry seems to have no qualms at all about sharing her perspective on the matter.

In “Lower the boom on this idiotic practice,” Henry outwardly, openly and quite publicly decried: “Fireworks = bad. They are dirty, costly and pose needless danger to our community.

“They need to be banned.”

The ban, though, that Henry alludes to is conditional.

Case in point: She wrote: “Professional shows, hey, I’m totally cool with those. But any kind of personal firework, ‘safe and sane’ or otherwise, needs to go.”

Henry goes on to state her reasons why, air pollution being among them.

“The soot from these Chinese- and Mexican-made smoke bombs routinely takes us over – way over – allowable limits for particulate matter (PM2.5). The allowable standard, per the EPA, is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air over a 24-hour average. Last year’s Independence Day ‘celebration’ put us at 129 micrograms per cubic meter. In 2010, we were at 675 micrograms per cubic meter.”

Six-seventy-five: I can’t imagine.

With those kinds of exceedances, one would think this individual would flat-out be against all pyrotechnic activity, not just on the Fourth of July, but New Years, Chinese New Year and whenever else fireworks rocket skyward such as at baseball games, for example.

Again, Henry expressed why she feels the way she does.

“Limiting celebrations to professional shows would clear the field, so to speak, so enforcement teams would have an easier time going after offenders.”

That’s a far cry, or so it would seem, from her editorial’s third sentence, that “They need to be banned.”

Your thoughts?

The big cleanup dustup that need not be

Whether home or away it is impossible to not notice leaf-blowing activity. Leaf-blowing activity: no big deal, right? Think again.

For starters, I just don’t see where the area supposedly being leaf-blower cleaned is actually being ridded of debris and/or dirt and/or dust. It is my observation that debris and/or dirt and/or dust gets airborne and is sent elsewhere making it someone else’s problem.

I mean who uses a leaf blower when doing interior cleaning? No one I can think of. And, if this is the case, why leaf-blow: period?

Would you believe for convenience and/or time-saving purposes?

Next, what is the leaf-blowing activity doing to the air and people’s health? It can’t be helping matters; that’s for sure. What this activity does do is make air dirtier. The way I see it: it’s a double whammy. The blowing activity not only enables debris and/or dirt and/or dust plume development, but if the device itself is gasoline powered, then corresponding exhaust emissions become airborne and if inhaled, need I say more?

At the end of the day or even during it, for me, a broom with dustpan and rake suffice just fine. The key here is debris, dirt, dust removal. The exact reason behind my sweeping up grass and other yard cuttings when such finds its way into street gutters or on sidewalks, which is then placed into the green-waste bin for pickup and removal.

But, that’s just the half of it. The other half, of course, is that there are fewer particles being kicked up as a result of sweeping compared to leaf blowing.

Of ‘law’ and dis-‘order’

So, speaking of sweeping, I had made it a practice of placing my trash, recycle and green waste bins on the sidewalk by the street curb until such time that I was approached by an area sanitation worker advising me that I would need to start placing the bins in the street instead. Apparently, sidewalk-based bin placement resulted in bin damage being incurred from waste-pickup-haulage trucks during the container-pickup-and-emptying process. This is how I understand it. So, I now comply.

What I don’t get, however, is why city street sweepers sweep streets the day before the waste gets picked up. If anything, shouldn’t said street-sweeping activity occur the day after pickup? It just seems the logical thing to do.

I can’t help but believe others too have noticed this, what I will refer to as a “scheduling misstep.” If ever there were a “cart-before-the-horse” case, this would be it. I think so.

Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour: Salt Lake City, Utah

The third in this series.

The “Great Western Cities ‘On-the-Air’ tour” moves west to Salt Lake City, Utah. I can’t remember the exact first time I traveled to the Beehive State and the Great Salt Lake region in particular, but I’ve been to the city bearing the same name about four times now.

320px Salt Lake City panorama1 300x207 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Salt Lake City, UtahWhen I think of Salt Lake City I think of railroading and trains and for good reason. Located not far from there – Promontory Summit – is where on May 10, 1869 the Golden Spike was driven ceremoniously marking the joining of Central Pacific and Union Pacific rails, signifying completion of America’s first transcontinental railroad. The Golden Spike, however, is now housed on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Also notable in the region are the Great Salt Lake, Great Salt Lake Desert and Bonneville Salt Flats where many a land speed record were set and broken. The area is also well known as a place for winter- or snow-related recreational activities and it is where the Mormon Church also has its headquarters. Salt Lake City in Salt Lake County is also the State Capital.

I remember being there in late summer and late winter during different years, of course. And, speaking of winter, it was then and there in 2002 that the Olympic Winter Games were held.

Incidentally, Salt Lake City is no stranger to the Air Quality Matters blog. There are a number of blog posts mentioning the western U.S. metropolis.

The Wasatch and Oquirrh ranges of mountains are quite prominent and sit off to the east and southwest of the city proper, respectively. Interestingly, the street grid consists primarily of easterly-westerly and northerly-southerly running streets. The town is 110.4 square miles in area and as of 2010, had a population of 186,440 people.

The city itself is home to one of this country’s most prolific public transit networks going. Two systems of note are FrontRunner and TRAX. In fact, of these in “Leading from the Front” in the Fall 2011 edition of RAIL, editor Rich Sampson wrote: “As many communities and regions navigate the challenging economic conditions facing the entire country over the past several years, and others questioning their commitment to any forms of new mobility infrastructure, the metropolitan region along Utah’s Wasatch Front mountain range is all the more dedicated to consistently improving its transit network, with its TRAX light-rail and FrontRunner commuter rail systems leading the charge.”

Salt Lake City Utah1 300x204 Great Western Cities ‘On the Air’ tour: Salt Lake City, UtahAs a matter of fact, two other areas with this same kind of enthusiasm regarding momentum or movement on the transit-building front in the U.S. west immediately coming to mind, are: Denver, Colorado and Los Angeles, California.

Just so you are aware, each time I paid a visit the air was clean and visibilities good though I understand that during winters, air pollution can and has a tendency to build. (See: “Updated approach to warn of unhealthy particulate levels draws fire”).

Of the several times that I visited, one of my more memorable recollections is when, during the 1980s, I was driving west on what I am sure was highway 40 near Heber City, Utah. While driving at the posted speed mind you, I was overtaken by not one, not two, but three speeding motorists, and soon thereafter a Utah law enforcement official, sped past who, obviously, was in pursuit of the offending scofflaws. Farther on all three in their cars were stopped. Each had pulled off to the side of the road, all of whom being handed citations – I’m certain not the kind given for meritorious driving, that is, if there is such a thing, but of the traffic variety, all by you know who: the one law enforcement officer who had been in pursuit. Not one to want to make the same error in judgment, by the time I passed them by, I made sure it was at the posted speed.

In case there is a question as to why I recount the specifics of this chance encounter here, it is these sorts of experiences you just don’t forget and for good reason.

Lower image: NASA