The Fresno-Drummond station mysteriously shut down for a crucial hour on Sept. 6, 2011.

Clearing the Air

By Kevin Hall

The No Spin O-Zone

Readers of the Fresno Bee were greeted to an amazing front-page headline a few weeks back, one that must have had many thinking they’d awakened in a parallel universe. You know, that mythical place where the progressive policies of the San Joaquin Valley have led to effective pollution control resulting in clean air. Because blazoned across the top of the Sept. 1 edition were the words, “Valley avoids August ozone offenses.”

My first thought was, “Man, I hate being right sometimes.” Last month, I had predicted the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District would be using its removal of the Arvin air pollution monitor to paint a false picture of progress at reducing the lung-scarring, brain-damaging, heart-stopping gases and chunks of crud in our air, but the speed at which it did so was stunning. And if the weather stays relatively mild throughout September, there will be a repeat of the big lie come Oct. 1.

At issue is the one-hour ozone standard. This is the measurement that reflects the highest ozone level in a single hour. The Valley Air District was crowing loudly about the “fact” that it had recorded no violations of the one-hour standard for the entire month of August. Furthermore, it was taking credit for the “air alert” system aimed at getting people to voluntarily drive less as having made all the difference.

Wow. If mendacity were a slip, I’d say the District’s is showing.

Setting aside the Arvin monitor, August’s unusual winds and low temperatures, and the delayed almond harvest, consider that the one-hour standard was supposed to have been reached 12 years ago and not just for a month but the entire year. The year 1999 should have been the first of three years in a row without any violations.

The current standard for ozone is the eight-hour measurement. Although still too high, this level more accurately reflects the levels at which human health is directly harmed. In August, the standard was exceeded on 29 out of 31 days with 152 monitors having recorded violations in the San Joaquin Valley.

It was the worst August in five years, but you won’t see that press release coming from the Valley Air District anytime soon.

This screenshot of an error reading from the Valley Air District on Sept. 7, 2011, is when the system went offline.

To the contrary, the Valley Air District’s public information office has been turned into a public relations machine bordering on propaganda mill, and the Bee headline demonstrates how effective it has become at misleading the media and public: 152 violations and the headline reads zero. Press releases warn of financial sanctions, not of threats to your child’s life or her grandfather’s heart.

Monitoring Monitors

So dedicated is the Valley Air District to perpetuating the myth, it has to raise one’s suspicions when air monitors seemingly on the verge of a violation suddenly shut off. Just a few days after the celebratory headlines and news reports (and there were plenty around the Valley), ozone levels started to spike again, particularly in southeast Fresno.

On Sept. 6, the Fresno-Drummond station was rocketing upward when at 4 p.m. it just stopped working for an entire hour; violation averted. The following day it was again spiking at an even faster pace. Concerned breathers were checking in online every hour when suddenly the Valley Air District’s Web site simply stopped working a little after 5 p.m. and instead posted an error message for the southeast Fresno and Clovis monitors. It came back online after about 30 minutes and, wait for it, the one-hour ozone reading peaked at 124 parts per billion—one part per billion below the violation level of 125.

Meanwhile, a short distance away, the Roosevelt High football team was outside, practicing in full gear, running hard and breathing deeply. A few miles up north in Clovis, boys’ peewee football and girls’ soccer were also running at full steam. No problem here, folks. My air district just told me the air was clean. I read it in the paper. I saw it on the news.

The lucky few were listening to independent media. The one news source that told the story completely was KFCF/KPFA. Through the Valley stringer project, Vic Bedoian delivered a thorough report on the Pacifica Evening News (check it out online by going to the 25:38-minute mark at http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/72985).

Et tu, Obama?

This column can’t end without a quick comment on President Obama’s decision to delay implementation of a new ozone standard by at least a year. An estimated 3,000 lives will be lost every year the standard is pushed back.

That pales in comparison to the Tar Sands Oil Pipeline issue. When Dr. James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute describes the possible outcome of allowing that project to move forward as “game over for the climate,” only a fool would fail to listen. The President has the authority to single-handedly stop the project. There is no negotiation required with the free marketeers of doom. Take action by going here: http://act.350.org/sign/tar-sands/.

*****

Kevin Hall is director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition based in Fresno and online at www.calcleanair.org and on Facebook. Contact him at kevin@calcleanair.org.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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