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EPA Expected to Lower the Fine Particle Standards to Protect Our Health

Changes are in the wind at the U.S. EPA, which is currently considering revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5).

Wood smoke is a major contributor to fine particle pollution, which is hazardous to health in many ways. The EPA is expected to issue the final rule for PM 2.5 NAAQS later this year and is expected to make the standards more stringent to protect the public’s health. A lower PM 2.5 standard has long been advocated by leading scientists, physicians, and health professionals.

Supporting information from the EPA regarding this rule includes an “Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter” report and the document “Policy
Assessment for the Review of the Particulate Matter National Ambient Air Quality Standards.”

The policy assessment discusses revising the current annual PM 2.5 standard level of 15 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) to a level of 11 to 13 µg/m3. It also discusses whether the current 24-hour standard of 35 µg/m3 should remain or be revised to 30 μg/m3.

The EPA’s decision on the 24-hour standard for PM 2.5 is important because, in conjunction with the new NAAQS, EPA is also considering a rule that would revise Air Quality Index (AQI) values.

The current PM 2.5 AQI value of 100 is set at 40.5 µg/m3, and anything above 100 is considered unhealthy for sensitive people such as the elderly and those with asthma or cardiovascular conditions. The proposed rule would change the AQI value (when air quality is considered “unhealthy”) to 35 µg/m3, which is the current 24-hour standard for PM 2.5. This change would increase the number of days on which air quality is considered unhealthy.

We think a lowering of the PM 2.5 standard is long overdue and would reflect the recommendations of health professionals and protect the public’s health from the effects of fine particle pollution.

Summer’s Almost Here: Enjoy the Beach and the Fresh Ocean Air

Even in chilly Northern California, summer means trips to the beach. And for many people, a cool evening at the beach means a bonfire. A recent New York Times article, “36 hours in San Francisco” listed “Beach Bonfire” as one of the ‘things to do’ when you visit. We at Families for Clean Air suggest that this year you enjoy the beach—and the fresh beach air—without wood smoke pollution.

Bonfires are a mixed pleasure. Capricious gusts mean that everyone, no matter what their position, is ‘downwind’ part of the time. So along with the sparkling flames, you get the occasional (or even frequent) lungful of smoke. This is not only unpleasant, but also hazardous to your health.

Would the beach experience be as enjoyable without the bonfire? We at FCA think so. Here are some things we like to have with us at the beach:

  1. Blankets. The beach is cold at night!
  2. A guitar. Whether you play, sing, or listen, music on the beach is magical.
  3. Binoculars. Telescopes can be complicated, but anyone can use a decent pair of binoculars to bring the night sky closer. Plus, binoculars are easy to carry. You may be surprised at the details you can see on the moon with the binoculars currently gathering dust in the hall closet.
  4. The Star Walk app. For you techies who admire the skies but don’t know your stars and planets, this iPhone app helps you identify what you are looking at.
  5. A lantern. Lanterns, either battery- or gas-powered, provide a focal point and a bit of light if you’re not stargazing. Plus, no (or little) smoke.

So wrap up and enjoy the sound of the pounding waves. Take a deep breath and savor the scent of the ocean. Look up and enjoy the night sky. Happy (almost) summer from Families for Clean Air.

Racing for Clean Air

On Saturday, May 7th, FCA will join other non-profit groups and schools as part of the Marin Human Race. We invite you to be a part of the action. This 5k run and community fair is a fun way to help raise funds for your favorite causes and to learn more about their programs and activities.

Sign up to be on FCA’s team or come out on race day to cheer us on. Be sure to stop by the FCA booth and register to win a free solar oven. If you can’t make it to the race, you can still donate to FCA on our own Marin Human Race fundraising page. To reach our page, go to www.marinhumanrace.org, click on Participating Organizations on the left panel, and then click on ‘Families for Clean Air’.

Speaking of other non-profits, Families for Clean Air (FCA) recently attended an Earth Day breakfast in honor of environmental organizations that was hosted by California State Assembly member Jared Huffman, who represents the 6th Assembly District. FCA was proud to be among the groups recognized for making air and water cleaner, food production more sustainable, and fish and wildlife populations more viable.

We applaud Marilee Eckert, CEO of the North Bay Conservation Corps, for receiving the Environmental Hero award for her excellent work teaching youth, conserving natural resources, and building a stronger, more sustainable community.

A Report from the BAAQMD Board Meeting

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) Board of Directors concluded that the region-wide approach to addressing wood smoke pollution is not solving the problem in neighborhoods most impacted by wood smoke, despite region-wide improvement in air quality this winter. At their April 6, 2011 meeting, the board agreed that changes are needed to reduce wood smoke pollution further. At Families for Clean Air (FCA), our hope is that this will translate into new outreach programs in impacted neighborhoods and more action from the BAAQMD enforcement division.

FCA presented a list of recommendations to the board, including hiring more inspectors to patrol neighborhoods on evenings and weekends when most wood burning occurs, vigorously enforcing the “opacity” rule, and installing air monitors in wood smoke-impacted neighborhoods. Although BAAQMD monitors showed only one air-quality exceedance day region-wide during the winter season, we previously presented data showing that the air quality in one neighborhood exceeded National Ambient Air Quality standards for particulate matter several times throughout the winter. There was no response to this pilot air quality monitoring study, and a deafening silence on the issue of more air quality monitoring in wood smoke-affected areas.

FCA also hoped to hear responses from the Enforcement Division regarding evidence we presented to the Board on March 16th. This evidence suggested that several permanent exemptions, which allow households to burn on Spare The Air days, had been granted under false pretenses. Despite pointed questioning from Board members, Enforcement offered no explanation other than that the Enforcement program was “only three years old” and still evolving.

At the March 16th, meeting a number of Board members, appeared frustrated at the meager number of wood burning citations issued (2), compared to the number of complaints sent in (1,373), given that the number of people who go to the trouble to report a violation represent only a small percentage of people affected by wood smoke. Last week, while some Board members pushed the Enforcement Division to be more aggressive about going after violators, the discussion mostly focused on finding other ways to address the problem. Some of the ideas we liked: Outreach staff meeting with PTA groups to discuss the negative health effects of wood smoke, especially on children, and reporting smoke complaint information to local governments to work cooperatively to enforce wood burning regulations.

Bay Area Meeting on Wood Smoke Pollution

The Board of Directors of the San Francisco Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) is meeting this Wednesday, April 6, at 9:45 a.m. At this meeting, there will be a recap of this past winter’s Spare the Air program, which represents the bulk of BAAQMD’s efforts concerning wood smoke enforcement and education.

This is the third year that the program has been in effect. Once again the Board will hear an upbeat report from the Outreach Department about the number of media stories and ads placed reminding people to “check before you burn.” The Enforcement Division will present its facts and figures about the number of wood smoke complaints received and the resulting patrols. The report will most likely point to the fact that this past winter the Bay Area exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality standard for particulate matter only once as proof that the BAAQMD’s efforts to reduce wood smoke pollution are working.

Families for Clean Air will be at the Board meeting to rebut the rosy picture painted by Outreach and Enforcement and tell the story of what’s happening in neighborhoods heavily impacted by wood smoke. In addition to anecdotal evidence from people living in a toxic clouds of smoke from their neighbors’ chimneys, FCA has conducted its own pilot study, conducted by the same consultant who conducts air quality monitoring studies for BAAQMD. FCA’s study shows that, not just once, but several times throughout the winter, the air quality in one wood smoke-impacted neighborhood exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality standard for particulate matter. This standard is what BAAQMD uses when it calls a winter Spare the Air alert, which bans wood burning for 24 hours.

The FCA study shows that the BAAQMD’s region-wide approach to wood smoke regulation is not reaching the communities that need it most. We will repeat the message to the Board on Wednesday: It is time to focus on a neighborhood-level approach to wood smoke pollution. There need to be air quality monitors and wood smoke abatement programs in wood smoke-impacted neighborhoods, just as there are air quality monitors in neighborhoods impacted by diesel pollution and a myriad of programs to reduce diesel pollution. It’s time to take the issue of wood smoke pollution off the back burner.

If your neighborhood has a wood smoke problem, give FCA a call or email us so that we can relay that information to the BAAQMD board at the meeting on Wednesday. Or come to the meeting at 939 Ellis Street in San Francisco. We’ll report back on the results.