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Air pollution on decline

Ozone remains concern, but officials say situation is improving

Posted: June 10, 2012 2:30 a.m.
Updated: June 10, 2012 2:30 a.m.

Air pollution in the Santa Clarita Valley has been declining during the past 10 years, and residents are experiencing about 34 percent fewer days of unhealthy air in 2011 than in 2002, air quality officials say.

The primary concern in terms of pollutants remains ozone, according to South Coast Air Quality Management District officials.

Ozone — a colorless and mostly odorless gas — is a pollutant formed in the atmosphere, said Sam Atwood, spokesman for South Coast Air Quality Management District, which monitors the air quality throughout Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Ozone is formed when compounds from combustion — sources can include a running car engine or even a water heater — and volatile organic compounds — found in items such as gasoline, paints or solvents — are mixed together and heated with sunlight, Atwood said.

The Santa Clarita Valley itself doesn’t produce that much ozone, but onshore breezes carry the pollutant inland to the Santa Clarita Valley, where it can cause health problems for residents, Atwood said.

“The reason Santa Clarita Valley has high ozone levels (is) because that’s where the wind blows the pollutants from Los Angeles and Orange counties,” Atwood said.

A number of health problems are triggered by ozone, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

People can experience chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, congestion and repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.

Decline in pollution
In 2002, the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s monitoring station in Newhall detected 90 days in which local levels of ozone exceeded the federal ozone standard for at least eight hours, according to data provided by the district. When the federal ozone standard is exceeded, the air quality is unhealthy at least for sensitive groups, and possibly for everyone, depending on the severity of the pollution,  Atwood said.

In 2011, only 31 days exceeded the federal ozone standard for at least eight hours.

Variations in ozone levels are strongly influenced by weather patterns because ozone forms in the atmosphere, Atwood said.

“Cooler summers generally result in lower ozone levels, while strong high-pressure systems can cause higher ozone levels,” Atwood said.

With the existing air quality regulations in California, Atwood says, the district expects ozone levels to continue declining throughout Southern California.

The federal Clean Air Act mandates that the number of days exceeding the federal ozone standard be reduced to zero each year by 2023.

Future air concerns
A proposed sand and gravel mine in Canyon Country has many residents concerned that Santa Clarita Valley air pollution could worsen in the future.

Santa Clarita city officials and the mining firm, Cemex, agreed to a “truce” five years ago to hold off mining while efforts moved ahead to reached a congressional agreement acceptable to both parties.

However, late last month that truce expired, leaving city officials and Canyon Country residents worried the mine may move head.

Atwood said the Cemex mine could cause issues with particulate matter — tiny particles that people inhale.

These particles can be breathed in and are typically found near roadways and dusty industries, according to the EPA. The smallest particles are the most dangerous because they can get deep into people’s lungs and even into the bloodstream.

Health effects of these particles include difficulty breathing, decreased lung function, aggravated asthma, development of chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.


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