Air quality reporting: How useful a service is it, really?

So, I wanted to know just how useful are the various tools available to the public for assessing the air quality condition where I reside – in California’s expansive San Joaquin Valley. The region is ranked worst in the nation for fine particulate matter pollutant emissions and the nation’s second worst for ozone, the two main pollutant emissions of concern.

Today’s thread deals with the air-quality-reporting apparatus, the particular focus pollutant here being summertime ozone. Ozone is a colorless gas that is corrosive to the lungs.

Just so you know, I have been closely tracking area air quality since Earth Day 2019 or Apr. 22nd, a month into spring. The purpose for my doing this is because, based on forecasts – not actual readings, I wanted to know how I should plan each day.

In using the Air Quality Index or AQI and depending on the information available at the time I could then determine, based on this, whether I would work or venture outside.

Broadcast television reporting

When it comes to air quality reporting I have deemed broadcast television to be but a fair resource, meaning it is just okay. This is how I see it.

This type of reporting, while, to me, is of limited value, I feel that something on this order is, however, better than having no such reporting at all.

The big drawback here is that it is hit or miss in the sense that the viewer has to tune in at the correct time in order to get the air-quality lowdown.

With regard to the reporting thereof, the condition of the air being good, bad or otherwise, added comments like “Nice day we’re having” or “What a nice day to be outside” and statements along these lines, it is not uncommon for these to accompany or precede the broadcast air quality reports themselves. My preference is that such comments not be aired when air quality is poor for reasons not too difficult to imagine. But, that’s just me.

So, using the example of a parent of an elementary age child or children tuning into the late afternoon news broadcast looking for an air quality report that includes information on current outside area air quality conditions, if the only related information being reported is what the next day’s air quality forecast is likely to be, then this for this particular parent, would be of only limited value. I raise this point because when I catch the report on air quality, the next day’s forecast, more often than not, is all the information that I receive, which, for my purposes and perhaps that of others in terms of our getting the information sought, this would mean turning to a different source. More on this in a moment.

But, there is an exception. What I have noticed is that if area air is in the unhealthy zone at the time the broadcast television air quality report is given then information related to current air quality is oftentimes reported. I will give broadcast television news reporting that.

Print-news reporting

Here again, limited information is provided. And, in the case of the local newspaper I get at my door, it seems like you have to be purposely looking for the air quality information in order to spot it. That’s the opinion held by this author, anyway.

Then there are those times when there just so happens to be an article located elsewhere in the print news device dealing with air quality issues in which there is included referenced information concerning then-trending local air quality conditions – this could be a main article, an opinion piece or a letter to the editor. I often find such published information to be an added plus.

Internet reporting – Up close and personal

Using this platform, the field, space is wide open.

One of the more useful sites I find is AirNow.gov. This is a service of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

When accessing the site, what is displayed is a map of the U.S. showing current air quality conditions with other useful data displayed as well.

Moving the computer’s cursor to a specific location and then clicking the mouse on that area, accesses the page having to do with air quality in that locale. I located the cursor on, in this case, California.

Shown is a map of California and Nevada and portions of Arizona.

For much more detailed data there are corresponding tables located on the right-hand side of the page for visitor reference.

Now, if I’m looking for hour-by-hour air-quality-reporting data for communities based in the San Joaquin Valley including the community in which I reside, the Real-Time Air Advisory Network (RAAN) provision or feature accessible through the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District via its Web site (valleyair.org), I find to be the most useful to me.

And, there you have it.

Image above: US EPA and partners

Leave a Comment