Policies, strategies, technology…and weather, too…all play a role in shaping Valley’s air quality

In a comment to the recent “Valley makes air-quality progress, but critical ozone, PM standards have yet to be met,” Dec. 14, 2022 Air Quality Matters posting, I wrote: “The progress and work must continue if the Valley is to meet the remaining federal National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for 24-hour average and annual fine-particulate matter (PM2.5 of 35 and 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air, respectively), as well as the NAAQS for 8-hour ozone (set at 70 parts per billion parts of air), the deadline for meeting this has been extended in the Valley out to year 2037, the extension granted by the Environmental Protection Agency on Dec. 28, 2015, incidentally. The Valley, on the other hand, is projected to meet both the daily average and annual PM2.5 standards in 2024 and 2025, respectively, ‘with ongoing emissions reductions expected in the coming years,’ according to the [San Joaquin Valley] Air [Pollution Control] District (2021-’22 ‘Annual Report to the Community,’ p. 13)”.

And, in the same post, the intro. reads: “San Joaquin Valley, California residents are breathing much easier thanks to the dedicated and hard work of the area’s many constituent interests who have not only taken the time already, but, in going forward, are committed to making a positive-air difference. The results we are seeing would not have been possible without this kind of resolve. It is this sort of news that should give all of us who live in, work in or frequent the Valley hope.”

Though not all of what is written above is encouraging, much of it, however, is. And, the part that is tells me and should tell everyone, air quality in the Valley is heading in the positive direction. And, this should give hope to all who breathe air. Why? It is because if the Valley can clean up its air act – it having some of the United States’ most notoriously bad, unsightly and unhealthy air quality – then with the right kinds of pollution mitigating and remediating action applied elsewhere where air pollution continues to persist and pervade, then these locales too should likewise expect far cleaner if not clean air to breathe one day also.

In other words, if the San Joaquin Valley can achieve a milestone such as this, other regions can as well. But that’s a matter to be brought up for discussion at some later point in time.

For now, it’s time to focus attention on one item in particular, one that gets frequently referred to as a contributing factor in terms of the role it plays in helping to clean the Valley’s dirty air, and that item is weather. However, some fail to recognize (or don’t credit enough) meteorology, for its air-cleaning properties.

Take weather in the San Francisco Bay Area and even in parts of the north Valley, for instance, which plays a huge role in regard to filtering out dirty air there. Credit where credit is due? How about it?! Without regular cleansing breezes scrubbing Bay Area and north Valley air, these regions might be burdened by similar air-quality conditions that those in certain southern California regions face.

To lend credence, in “Tighter restrictions on wood-burning in Valley could make for cleaner winter air,” an Aug. 24, 2014 Air Quality Matters post, referencing a San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District document, it was determined that in the Valley for the “2013-2014 Woodburning Season,” at least, “as much as 30 percent of fine particulate pollution can be tied to residential wood-burning activity, …” The remainder coming from various other sources like transportation, industry, agriculture and more.

In the March 2020 “Valley Air News” newsletter article “2019-2020 winter season is cleanest on record,” the Air District wrote: “Despite record-breaking high winds in early November, the Check Before You Burn season, which runs from November 1 through the end of February, was the cleanest in recorded history.”

Two paragraphs later, the Air District wrote: “The District credits increased cooperation and support by Valley residents, businesses, the ag industry and all who upgraded to cleaner wood, pellet and natural gas devices, as a critical element in this season’s improved air quality.”

The Air District went on to state that amendments were adopted recently to the strategy for reducing emissions from residential wood-burning thereby lowering the burn-curtailments-threshold in the three Valley counties most challenged by air-pollution issues, these so-called air-pollution “hot spots” being Fresno, Kern and Madera counties.

But these facts alone do not tell one all that there is to tell.

So, in that meteorology plays a part in shaping Valley air condition, and that includes the stagnant air at times that contributes to the Valley’s degraded air quality, what I have noticed this December in particular is that the Valley has had above-average rainfall amounts (at this time in the season) and on the days when it has rained, there have been corresponding air-quality improvements in those locations where it has done just that. And, in some cases the cleaner air stuck around for several days afterwards.

However, after the rain cleared out and on those occasions when strong accompanying winds subsided, this, coupled with noticeably higher temperatures moving in, poorer air quality returned; in some locations it reached the level of it being unhealthy for sensitive individuals.

Remember, and speaking more broadly, air cleaning doesn’t happen from changes in policies and strategies and through applied technological advances alone.

– Alan Kandel

Copyrighted material.

Last updated on Dec. 20, 2022 at 4:48 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.