South Coast Air Basin 2016 vs. ’15 ozone update

Imagine residing in an area where more than a quarter of one’s days in a given year, are spent breathing smog. And, it’s not only the smog that’s at issue: it is the degree or level of smog, or rather, ozone that is in air and in the South Coast Air Basin of California on the 107 days in 2016 declared, at least preliminarily, as unhealthy, whether this be for sensitive groups or everyone in the region.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently (Oct. 1, 2015) established a national ambient air quality standard for ozone (averaged over an 8-hour time frame) of 70 parts per billion (ppb) of air, below which the quality of air is either at moderate or good levels, depending. The revised standard is more stringent than the previous 75 ppb threshold set in 2008. When the more heath-protective air standard becomes effective, without dramatic positive change, expect even more exceedance days for ozone in the South Coast Air Basin.

Meanwhile, in 2015, the number of exceedance days with the standard of 75 ppb as the lower limit, the South Coast Air Basin registered 81. The Basin has consistently led the nation in the number of ozone exceedance days each year. Remember the release of somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 metric tons of methane from the gas storage facility at Aliso Canyon near the town of Porter Ranch, California beginning in Oct. 2015 and continuing into early 2016? Well, in this regard, air condition could in no way have been helped.

Whereas, in 2015, exceedances were recorded beginning in mid-April and concluding in mid-October, in 2016 the first exceedance was recorded on Feb. 13th, about 2 months prior to 2015’s first on Apr. 12th. As far as the number of exceedances this year in Feb., there were five. Could warmer temperatures have been a contributing factor? More than likely.

The highest concentration of exceedance days were for the three months of June, July and August this year. Ditto in 2015. That year, the maximum number for any month was in Aug. with a total of 24. This was surpassed in 2016 in July and August (tied) each with 28. Again, did temperature and/or weather play a contributing role?

The highest reading for the region occurred on Aug. 30th; a high of 122 ppb. The second highest reading was on July 29th – a high of 121 ppb. The highest reading in 2015, incidentally, was 127 ppb and that happened June 20th.

Going from 81 to 107 exceedance days in a year’s time is considerable – that’s 26 more days where ozone in the region reached unhealthy levels. The increase isn’t encouraging.

So, what can be done to improve air? In the short term, far less driving. The Expo light-rail line service to Santa Monica opened this year. With good patronage on this and other fixed guideway systems (light-rail, subway and commuter and intercity rail systems), this should help. Better and more comprehensive and thorough air-pollution monitoring, control and mitigation of business, industry, energy generation, not to mention energy produced from renewable sources such as the sun and wind and greater exploitation of this will also help.

Motor vehicles using cleaner-burning fuels, cleaner-burning and/or no-emissions automobile engines will go a long way to bring pollution levels in the air down. However, with gas prices as low as they are, it may be a difficult sell to encourage residents to seek out alternative forms of travel or even embrace active transportation such as walking and biking more.

Wind and rain: while these may bring temporary relief to the South Coast’s air woes, the operative word here is “temporary.” More thorough and permanent solutions must be identified. One thing is clear: air needs improvement so that next year’s numbers aren’t a repeat of 2016’s.

The South Coast Air Basin area – it’s time to set the air-cleaning machine in high gear and in a hurry.

An update: The article was updated on Dec. 13, 2016.

Image above: NASA

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