Air pollution: What it is, does and means

A pointed The Fresno Bee letter published a couple of days back is spot on. And, author Lloyd Carter in the letter, who seems adamant and emphatic, could not have been any more blunt nor said what he said better.

In “When will Valley air be safe?,” Carter insists San Joaquin Valley air quality is “terrible.”

This is followed up with the observation that, for every six children, one has asthma.

Continuing, Carter, now in a less forceful voice, reflects: “A significant number of Valley adults have what are euphemistically called ‘allergies.’” And this is answered with a claim; the letter writer uttering the pronouncement that all who reside in the Valley are test subjects, “guinea pigs,” as he puts it.

The letter’s author then queries if not pleads outright: “When are our Valley politicians, Democrat and Republican, going to demand that clean air – which should be a human right – be restored?”

Great question, Mr. Carter. I, too, want to know! But, my interest is farther-reaching. The scale in this case is global.

What the pollutant ozone is, does, means

Ozone is a corrosive gas that “rubs like sandpaper against delicate lung tissue”1 and can contribute to heart and/or lung illness.

The Valley, once declared an “Extreme” non-attainment area for ozone pollution, now, for the first time since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the one-hour health standard of 120 parts per billion of ozone on Feb. 8, 1979 – the same standard then revoked in 2005 which, itself, was then replaced by the more health protective eight-hour standard for ozone of  – has, this year, reached the historic milestone of being in compliance of the former standard, apparently; that is, according to information brought to bear in a highly descriptive San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD or Valley Air District or Air District or simply District) produced declaration, no less. At any rate at least, this is what I understand to be the case.

The District then went on in the formal Nov. 14, 2013 (“Valley achieves historic clean-air mark for smog: Air District to formally ask EPA to lift the $29 million annual penalty mandate on Valley residents”) declaration to state: “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. With the conclusion of the official ozone season that runs from March through October, the District will now submit a formal request to the federal Environmental Protection Agency to declare the Valley in attainment of the key standard and lift the $29 million penalty mandate which Valley residents have been paying since late 2010.”

I’m not sure there should be cause for celebration just yet. Reporting for 2013 is still preliminary and there are the state one-hour and federal and state eight-hour standards to consider also.

Notwithstanding, “EPA officials this week said they will take a hard look at the district’s request for a waiver of a Fresno exceedance of the one-hour ozone standard in 2012,” The Fresno Bee environmental reporter Mark Grossi in the Merced Sun-Star article: “SJ Valley air board: Key ozone standard met” wrote. “The district said fires outside the area sent just enough pollution into the Valley to push the monitor into an exceedance.”

FYI, the EPA in the “Table of Historical Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS),” document as it has to do with the 1979 one-hour O3 standard, in the “Form” area of the table, here is what is written: “Attainment is defined when the expected number of days per calendar year, with maximum hourly average concentration greater than 0.12 ppm [parts per million], is equal to or less than 1.”

Particulates, pollution in general

On top of this, there are other unhealthful pollutants of note.

“… [A]ny improvements in ozone, a hot weather phenomenon, do not affect the valley’s wintertime scourge, particulate pollution generated from diesel exhaust, power plants, various industrial and farming processes, residential wood burning and natural causes,” Bakersfield Californian staff writer Steven Mayer on Nov. 15, 2013 wrote. See: “Air officials say: EPA, we want to keep our money,” the third article (down from the top) in the grouping. (Much on coarse and fine particulate matter (PM 10 and PM 2.5) pollution has already been covered).

All that said, there should not be a question as to what needs to be done about the pernicious pollution. The time is at hand to demand the air be clean. We can do this!


  1. Barbara Anderson, “Fresno is state’s asthma capital,” “Fighting for Air,” The Fresno Bee, Dec. 16, 2007, p. 5. Also see: “Plagued by polluted air: Is the San Joaquin Valley at increased asthma risk?

– Alan Kandel