VENTURA COUNTY : Smog Season Is Dead Ahead

Tune up those air conditioners and slam the windows shut. Keep your eyes peeled for dirty brown skies. Get ready to hunker down indoors.

Smog season is back.

Ventura County air-quality experts on Thursday issued their annual warning: From now through October, expect occasional days of throat-burning, eye-watering pollution.

True, the county's air quality has steadily improved over the last 15 years. And last year was the cleanest on record, with only 10 unhealthful days in which pollution exceeded federal health standards.

But no one can predict how 1993 will turn out.

Smog watchers attribute the cleaner air--especially noticeable during the past five years--to a mix of stringent antipollution laws and cooler, windier weather.

"When you look at the long-term trend, you have to say it's associated with emission reductions designed to clean our air," said Richard Baldwin, director of the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District. "But when you look at a single year, you can't know how much is due to our regulations and how much is due to the weather."

So if weather patterns change, dumping hot, stagnant stretches on Ventura County, the number of unbearably smoggy afternoons could easily double this year, Baldwin said.

That's something most Southern Californians seem to expect.

Simi Valley has the worst smog record in the county, as the predominant breezes off the ocean force air pollution to pool in inland areas. The Conejo, Santa Clara and Ojai valleys also collect more than their share of dirty air.

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