Smog Alerts in ’94 Top Past 2 Years’ Totals
Authorities have already issued more health advisories for smoggy days so far this year in Ventura County than they have in the past two years combined, with the hot weather spell bringing promise of more polluted days to come.
The county has had six health advisories this year, in which children and athletes are cautioned to curtail outdoor exercise and the elderly and infirm are advised to stay indoors. During the previous two years, there were only four such advisories.
And the hot, stagnant air in recent days is just one factor contributing to the problem, experts say. The county’s atmospheric conditions from this point in August through September typically bring the smoggiest period of the year in Ventura County.
“We’re just now getting into the season where we have the highest air pollution,” said Kent Field, meteorologist with the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District. “We’ve already had more unhealthful days than we had to this point last year and we haven’t even hit September yet.”
Smog levels, which peaked in Simi Valley on Friday with the highest ozone reading of the year at 155 on the Pollutant Standard Index, were not expected to exceed the unhealthful level of 100 for the rest of the week as temperatures continue to drop slightly.
But the pollution levels in the inland valleys were expected to hover near the unhealthful level before climbing again in the early part of next week along with returning high temperatures. Field could not say this far ahead whether more health advisories are expected.
Along the coast, where temperatures have cooled several degrees since Sunday, smog levels were expected to remain moderate.
The recent smoggy period has caused an increase in calls to area allergists, who say that people with already impaired lung capacity suffer more acutely during smoggy days.
“During the smog times, we see a substantial increase in hospital admissions, emergency room admissions and outpatient visits,” said Dr. Lewis Kanter, an allergist with practices in Camarillo and Thousand Oaks.
“Smog is a non-specific irritant, like little drops of acid that irritate the lungs,” he said. “So the lungs think there is something in there and they close down the air tubes so whatever the irritant is can’t get farther down into the lungs.”
For most people, Kanter said, that episode can last a few minutes, but for asthmatics, the seizing of the lungs can be sustained much longer, developing into a full asthmatic attack.
The American Lung Assn. has made clean air the focus of its campaign this year, said William Michael Reynolds, chairman of the board for the Ventura County chapter.
“Since breathing is a necessity of life, all things that control the quality of air we breathe are important,” he said.
Field said he and others at the air pollution district who analyze meteorological patterns had remarked in June that the conditions were right for a year of high ozone pollution concentrations. Ozone, the primary component of smog, is formed when chemicals produced by cars and industry mix in sunlight.
“By the end of May and the first few days of June, we were seeing a weather pattern similar to what we have now,” Field said. “But the pattern is much stronger now.”
The smog and heat are the result of a thick high-pressure zone that has hovered over the county for the past week. The mass is a large pool of stagnant warm air that is without winds or clouds. That allows sunlight to penetrate and warm up the ground below, but does not allow much mixing of the air, Field said.
Those conditions were absent during much of the last two years, when air quality was exceptionally good.
But Field said that without the stringent air pollution controls that have dramatically reduced the production of the chemicals that cause ozone, the air quality would be much worse.
“It could be twice as bad right now without the controls,” he said. “Now, to get a first-stage alert here (at a level of 200 on the index) we would have to have air brought in from outside the county. We just don’t produce enough of the components here to make the pollution levels that high.”
With each year, he said, the possibility that Ventura County will have a first-stage smog alert becomes more remote.
“Hopefully, we will get to a point where we hardly ever see health advisories either,” he said.
Smoggy Days in the County The air is considered unhealthful when smog levels reach 100 on the Pollutant Standard Index. A heath advisory is issued when levels reach 131 on the index.
*1994 1993 1992 1991 1990 Unhealthful days 11 13 10 33 18 Health advisories 6 3 1 7 6
* Through Tuesday
Source: Ventura County Air Pollution Control District