Fall: A break from summer’s heat, ozone at last!

Whew! Finally, some relief.

Summer’s gone and so is the heat. So, too, is that deplorable, dreadful ozone or smog – here, in California’s San Joaquin Valley, at least. This must be music to the ears of the many residents who suffer symptoms related to such.

I almost could not believe my eyes: Just a few days ago, while working in the yard outside, I was toiling under an overcast sky. Then around the noontime hour, the gray gave way, revealing a sky of the most brilliant blue hue. I took immediate note. In relishing the sight, I dwelled on the fact that such pristine air and such unobstructed upward view are indeed rare.

Puffy type cumulus clouds moved all about. Sun and then none. Sunshine appearing and then disappearing again, clouds blocking the rays, as if a kind of dance was going on above. It was all I could do to pry my eyes away from the sky and resume the work that had to be done.

Summer, meanwhile, was no picnic. There were strings of days where temps topped the century mark. And, just as bad, if not worse was the everywhere-one-looked (outside) smog filling, tainting the air.

In taking an inventory, I find that between the time of this year’s first and last major ozone episodes, the instances, preliminarily, numbered 121 (from Apr. 5th to Oct. 30th) where ozone levels exceeded the 70 parts per billion (ppb) eight-hour national health standard. This compares with the South Coast Air Basin’s 146 and, here again, this is preliminary data.

Incredibly, on each day of the month of July in the San Joaquin Valley, an exceedance was registered. That’s 31. If you add the 29th and 30th of June plus those on August’s first five days, that’s a total of 38 straight days where ozone exceedances of the national eight-hour ambient air quality standard were recorded.

The highest reading of 112 ppb occurred in Aug. on the 28th day.

Contrastingly, in the South Coast Air Basin, July had, preliminarily speaking, two days whereby the standard was not exceeded – July 11th and the 24th. Meanwhile, this area recorded its first and last such exceedances in March on the 10th and in Oct. on the 29th, respectively.

It isn’t just this. Sadly, in the two California regions – ozone exceedances-wise – the trend shows to be worsening.

Sure, some will doubtless attribute the air-quality decline to a greater number of higher-temperature days. But, to do this doesn’t tell the complete story. Remember, the ozone in the air results from the combination of hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen and chemicals (volatile organic compounds or reactive organic gases) mixing together in the presence of sunlight and heat. Yes, heat is a factor, but not the lone contributing factor. The other inputs must be present as well and these come from a multitude of sources – both mobile and stationary alike.

Ozone, around these here parts, it seems, is an unending story. I’ve repeatedly heard where air quality over the years has improved. And, while probably true, the fact that ozone remains a persistent and deleterious problem in the lives of people living in both the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast air basins, to me is less than encouraging.

Summer’s days may be behind us and ozone and smog may be out of our sight, but no way should the latter ever be forgotten, at least, not until it is gone for good.

For good: now that would be right!

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

– Alan Kandel