Air Agency to Broaden Smog Alerts for Schools : Pollution: Goal is to make coaches and teachers more responsive. AQMD board also eases some restrictions on businesses.


In a renewed effort to protect children’s health, the Southland’s air quality agency voted Friday to issue schools and day-care centers new warnings on when to keep students indoors on smoggy days.

Instead of the usual vague guidelines, schools will get more detailed advice for curtailing outdoor exercise, and for the first time, smog warnings will be issued to the region’s day-care centers, preschools and private schools.

During health advisories, which occur frequently in the four-county region, the South Coast Air Quality Management District will advise teachers and coaches to “discontinue prolonged, vigorous outdoor exercise lasting longer than one hour” for all children and to keep susceptible people, such as those with lung and heart ailments, indoors.


During a more serious Stage 1 alert, all outdoor exercise should stop and coaches should reschedule or cancel sports practices and games “if practicable.”

The goal is to make schools in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties more responsive to the health dangers of air pollution. Many teachers and coaches are frequently ignoring the alerts, even in the smoggiest cities.

Also on Friday, the AQMD board made several changes in regulations that ease pollution restrictions on businesses. About 850 furniture manufacturers were granted a 10-month reprieve from a major anti-smog rule that already has been delayed a year.

The board also created an amnesty program for polluting companies throughout the basin that operate illegally without smog permits.

The AQMD board, which has several new conservative members, has adopted no major smog-reducing measures this year. Instead, the board has been focusing on streamlining rules and easing deadlines for businesses, which say that pollution rules are hurting the region’s rebound from the recession.

The changes in the health warnings were made largely at the request of the American Lung Assn. of the Inland Counties, which was concerned about widespread complacency among school officials. At concentrations frequently found in much of the area, ozone can cause shortness of breath, chest pain and other immediate symptoms, especially in children, and has been linked to chronic losses of lung function and respiratory disease.


AQMD staffers said they will conduct a campaign to emphasize the new guidelines at public schools. For the first time, it will ensure that the region’s 1,500 private schools and thousands of day-care centers and preschools get the daily smog reports. The new reports, unlike the old ones, which alerted schools only to extreme smog conditions, will be issued whenever pollution exceeds federal health standards.

Laurie Milhiser, Montebello Unified School District’s director of risk management, called the new warnings “definitely an improvement.”

“Air quality has improved drastically and people tend to get a little complacent, but it’s really important,” she said. “I know as a parent I don’t want my son out playing rigorously in the smog because he comes home and says his chest hurts.”

But some school administrators say the changes might not help much in persuading teachers, especially high school coaches, to follow the guidelines. Milhiser said she has never heard of a game or practice postponed in her district because of a smog alert even though the schools are in a smoggy area.

“My sense is that the teachers are conscientious in terms of physical education, but coaches, maybe less so,” Milhiser said.

On the other hand, Keith Hilliard of Glendora Unified School District--an area that suffers the nation’s worst air quality--said teachers and coaches strictly follow health guidelines because parents insist on it. Games and practices are sometimes postponed until after smog alerts despite grumbling from boosters and teams.


“They have shut down football, they have shut down tennis. The PTA people here have been all over us in the past, so we know we have to keep on top of it,” Hilliard said.

Some school administrators expressed concern over a new notification system the AQMD will use to broadcast smog episodes. Old single-frequency radios that send out a high-pitched alarm at school district offices will be scrapped, and each school district will get daily smog reports by calling a hot line, receiving a fax or hearing through the mass media.

The original rule was adopted in 1977 to spread the word about smog alerts.

In a sign of how much air quality has improved since then, the board rescinded an outdated part requiring industries to submit emergency plans for reducing pollution during Stage 2 and 3 alerts. Smog levels have decreased so dramatically that such severe episodes, once commonplace, are never expected to occur again. Businesses also will no longer have to post warning signs in employee parking lots during Stage 1 alerts.

A separate amnesty program approved Friday is part of a 12-point Business Clean Air Partnership crafted by AQMD Chairman Jon Mikels, a San Bernardino County supervisor.

For a six-month period, companies that seek permits for polluting equipment will be granted amnesty from civil or criminal fines and costly late fees. AQMD officials believe as many as 3,000 companies may be operating without proper permits, which means they are not subject to inspections and rules controlling their emissions. The board’s intent is to get them to comply without fear of reprisal.

For the wood furniture industry, the AQMD board unanimously postponed a deadline for use of low-polluting, water-based coatings and finishes for a second time. Originally set for September, 1994, then postponed for a year, it now has been extended to July, 1996.


The furniture industry is one of the largest industrial sources of smog-causing hydrocarbons. Water-based formulas are available but the factory owners say they are more expensive to apply and sometimes do not give a high quality finish to furniture.


New Smog Health Guidelines

The AQMD on Friday adopted new advisories to help schools and day-care centers decide when to keep students from exercising outdoors on smoggy days.

Stage 2 and 3 Episodes

(PSI over 275)

All children: Discontinue all outdoor activities.

Stage 1 Episodes

(PSI of 200 through 274)

All children: Discontinue all vigorous outdoor activities regardless of duration.

Outdoor physical education classes, sports practices and athletic competitions should be rescheduled or canceled if practicable.

Health Advisories

(PSI of 138 to 199)

All children: Discontinue prolonged, vigorous outdoor exercise lasting more than one hour.

Susceptible persons, such as those with heart or lung disease should avoid outdoor activity.

Examples of the kinds of outdoor activities that should be avoided are calisthenics, basketball, running, soccer, football, tennis, swimming laps, waterpolo.

Unhealthful air

(Pollutant Standard Index over 100)

Susceptible persons, such as children with heart or lung disease, and healthy individuals with a noticeable adverse health response should minimize outdoor activity.


* The Pollutant Standard Index, or PSI, is a method of measuring three main pollutants in the Southland’s air--ozone, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide. No Stage 2 episodes have been recorded since 1988.

Source: South Coast Air Quality Management District