The dog days, smog days of summer: It’s that time of the year again

Right on schedule, smoggy days are here again (here, meaning in the San Joaquin Valley of California). And, such has come on with a vengeance. Around these parts and this time of the year especially smog is par for the course.

Today, in Fresno County, smack-dab in the center and thick of it all, the Air Quality Index is expected to reach 161 (the prediction as of this morning) – an unhealthy (for everyone) level. This is the worst it has been in quite some time. Tomorrow’s Index is forecast to reach 166!

Smog in this region forms because of a combination of factors.

NOx (oxides of nitrogen), VOC (volatile organic compounds) also known as ROG (reactive organic gases) such as ammonia, vapors from solvents and gasoline and petroleum products, in addition to HC (hydrocarbons), for example, from vehicle exhaust in the presence of both sunlight and heat, create the perfect smog-building-framework storm. Right here, right now all seem in ample supply.

The corrosive gas that ozone (O3) is in the Valley typically isn’t fleeting – it tends to hang in the air. The so-called “air-infiltrating” crud is, at the same time, lung-damaging. How lung damaging?

It can prompt coughing and wheezing and trigger in asthmatics, asthma attacks. The damage to the lung by ozone is likened to the lungs getting sunburned to delicate lung tissue getting a sanding via sandpaper.

Add in that the region has a bathtub-like geography/topography (hemmed in by mountains on three sides – the south, east and west), and it’s no wonder that oftentimes the smog in the Valley persists for days, weeks and sometimes for months on end. Literally and figuratively, it is not pretty.

In thinking about the factors, conditions that lead to the formation of smog in the region, certain elements can be adjusted to help reduce smog severity level while others cannot.

The single, biggest Valley smog-contributing aspect is driving – hands down. Upwards of 110 million miles are logged by motorists on Valley roads each weekday. That’s considerable. Removing a substantial amount of driving, or driving atmosphere-friendly vehicles or opting for greater dependence on public transit (though in the region options are somewhat limited) or active transportation modes such as walking and biking (not an easy proposition in high heat situations), can help. Implementing more sustainable, less air-polluting means on the farm, can go far and really make a difference in positively addressing VOC issues in agriculture. Employing the use of electric lawn implements when it comes to doing yardwork or maybe postponing yard chores for a while until air condition is improved, all can lead to lessening the negative impact on air. These are measures which the Valley’s inhabitants have direct control over.

The dog days, smog days of summer are here. The condition of the air need not be as severely polluted as it is at present. It is to everyone’s advantage to work toward improving air quality for those who live in California’s San Joaquin Valley. At the same time, there are some who will no doubt take a non-participatory tack and just leave it up to Mother Nature to provide relief, accomplished through the lowering of temperatures and a stirring of the air (at this time of the year it usually means winds) or leave it completely up to air regulatory concerns to implement the kinds of needed regulations that will result in positive change and improvement, the kind that can be directly observed.

I prefer to look at it thus: I don’t like when I look out my window and see that unmistakable brownish-grayish haze monopolizing the sky, my instinctively understanding that whether inside or outside my home, the air that I am breathing is robbing me of life. How much better the inside air is compared to that outdoors or if it’s any better at all, of this I’m not sure.

But this I know: I’m certainly not going to add to the mess and muck by driving around unnecessarily; set the thermostat to a lower temperature all in an effort to keep cool; keep lights on in my home when I know this isn’t needed; keep blinds covering windows in the open position; engage in daytime computer use when there is no rhyme or reason for doing so; and instead turn on ceiling fans, close window shades and blinds and compose articles such as this using pen and paper, that is, until I’m ready to upload and post digitally (in the latter part of the day or at night). For me, this works just fine.

Yes, these are the dog days, the smog days, the times when heat can be oppressive, smog in the air excessive and when that horrid-looking grayish-brownish hue to the sky is a sore sight for the eyes.

But, given a choice to do what I can to not make air worse by adding to the problem and instead lessening my impact on the air even if this means, in a manner of speaking, taking one for the team, you can bet your bottom dollar this will be my modus operandi because I know it is for the better of the whole.

Summer dog days, smog days. This time need not be bad – at all!


– Alan Kandel