If our air seems terrible, well, it is. Smog season 2017 has arrived with a vengeance.
So far this year, Southern California has endured 27 days with unhealthful levels of ozone, the hallmark pollutant of smog, making this spring the worst start of a smog season since 2008, according to state data.
Ozone forms when volatile organic compounds, such as gasoline fumes, react with nitrogen oxides from diesel trucks and other machines with internal combustion engines.
In the past week, brush fires in Redlands and Reche Canyon near Moreno Valley made things worse.
Ozone is harmful because it is an unstable gas that burns the moist tissues in the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. It aggravates cardiac and respiratory conditions and causes nausea, coughs, burning eyes and runny noses. It’s also associated with a rise in early deaths.
Early this week, officials at Community Hospital of San Bernardino said they had more asthma cases than they had seen in weeks.
In the Long Beach area, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach also can contribute to smoggy skies, as thousands of diesel trucks zip in and out of the mammoth cargo hubs.
VEHICLE POLLUTION DOWN
Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said emissions from trucks, cars, factories and other tracked sources are declining.
But, he added, ozone levels depend greatly on the weather.
This spring has seen a series of high-pressure systems with temperature inversion layers that trap the air pollutants in Southern California’s sea-to-mountain air basin, said Derek Schroeter, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
“The inversion acts like a lid and keeps the air pollutants close to the ground,” he said.
Atwood said that as emissions from vehicles and factories go down, the number of days meeting the federal health standard of no more than 70 parts per billion of ozone averaged over eight hours each day should also improve. And, overall, the region’s air quality has been improving since the 1970s.
Southern California is classified by the federal government as an “extreme non-attainment area” for ozone pollution. But don’t expect healthful air anytime soon.
That designation is expected to give the region until 2037 to clean up ozone, though an official deadline hasn’t been set, Atwood said.
ON THE COAST
Air officials call the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach the largest stationary source of air pollution in the region, though the cargo hubs have reduced their emissions in recent years. Earlier this year, AQMD regulators imposed voluntary emission standards as part of a region-wide air strategy.
Environmentalists, however, think the plan didn’t go far enough to push port officials to clean up dirty air.
“We have had decades of voluntary time to clean up the pollution and now is the time to make it mandatory and required,” said Adrian Martinez, an attorney with Earthjustice.
But port planners believe they can reduce the harmful emission and point to a plan in the works that is expected to decrease the reliance on dirtier old trucks and update diesel-fueled equipment with cleaner burning equipment.
“We have had focused efforts over the last decade that have met with a lot of success,” said Heather Tomely, an environmental specialist at the Long Beach port.
“We recognized there is still a lot of work to do,” she said, “and we are working on the developing strategies we need to continue to get the reductions we need into the future.”