Air Quality

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California Heats Up and That Means Health Risks

Map from the National Weather Service shows the areas of 'excessive heat' alerts in California.

Map from the National Weather Service shows the areas of 'excessive heat' alerts in California.

The rest of the nation has sweltered this summer, but California has escaped extreme heat — until now. The National Weather Service may not have high-end graphics, but its map tells the story. The San Joaquin Valley, starting south of Modesto, is colored a brownish-red and that means excessive heat warning. Temperatures are expected to exceed 100 degrees every day until Tuesday. The bright pink areas indicate a heat “watch” (click here if you don’t know the difference). This kind of heat is not just a weather story, it’s a significant health and environment story too.

High heat is hazardous to people, pets and livestock. San Joaquin County Public Health Services warns people to drink plenty of water, stay cool in an air-conditioned room and wear loose-fitting clothing. And, please, do not leave children, seniors or pets in a parked car for any period of time, even with windows cracked. The interior of the car can heat up very fast — to deadly levels — within minutes.

Those at highest risk for heat stress are children under age 4, adults with disabilities, anyone with a chronic illness and the elderly. Continue reading

Temperatures, Smog Soar in Central Valley — as Statewide Track Meet Starts

Farming in the Central Valley is a major contributor to the area's smog. (Photo: Getty Images)

Farming in the Central Valley is a major contributor to the area's smog. (Photo: Getty Images)

California’s Central Valley sadly boasts some of the dirtiest air in the country and the as the temperature goes up, the air quality usually goes down.

Right now, The Weather Channel shows it’s 102 in Clovis, a town northeast of Fresno. EPA’s AirNow site says the air quality for all of Fresno County has nudged into the “unhealthy for everyone” category. At this level the site says “everyone may begin to experience health effects.”

And today is especially important in Clovis, because the city is hosting the prestigious CIF State Track and Field Championships. Scores of athletes from across the state will be competing in air that could make them ill.

But it doesn’t stop there. From the Fresno Bee: Continue reading

Report: Fewer Unhealthy Air Days in California

By Bernice Yeung, California Watch

California logged fewer unhealthy air days in 2011 than a decade ago, giving hope that air quality is improving. (Getty Images)

California air pollution reached unhealthy levels less often in 2011 than a decade ago, according to a report released this week by a state association of regional air district officers.

Compared with 2000, there were about 74 percent fewer days of “unhealthy air” statewide last year, data from the report [PDF] showed. Air quality can range from “good” to “very unhealthy,” and it is calculated based on local monitoring of four air pollutants regulated by the federal Clean Air Act.

The report found that ozone pollution has decreased statewide between 1980 and 2011; there have been smaller and more limited reductions in particulate matter emissions during the same time frame.

Dr. John Balmes, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, said California is “ahead of the pack with regard to air quality and greenhouse gas control.” He said any reductions in ozone and particulate emissions could have positive effects on public health because these pollutants have been associated with cardiovascular or respiratory disease health risks.

The new report acknowledged that “despite significant improvements, air quality remains a major source of public health concern in large metropolitan areas throughout California,” especially in the San Joaquin Valley and the southern coast area surrounding Los Angeles. California has 35 regional air districts, which regulate businesses and industrial facilities. Continue reading

ouRXperience: An “F” in Air Quality; Hmong Shaman Training; Healthy Food Access; Child Abuse Awareness

Wood-burning stoves are a major source of air pollution in Butte County. (Photo: Marley Zalay)

Editor’s Note: KQED produces ouRXperience, a blog from community correspondents, to enrich coverage of health issues across California.

Recently, ouRXperience featured posts from four California communities:

Continue reading

Doctors Expect Climate Change to Worsen Lung Diseases

In some parts of California air quality is already a big issue.

Farming in the Central Valley contributes to the poor air quality there. (Photo: Getty Images)

As if there wasn’t already enough to worry about, now doctors are predicting that climate change will harm people’s respiratory health. The American Thoracic Society is so concerned it filed a report with two goals. The Society not only wants to raise awareness with doctors so they can take preventive measures with their patients but also is enticing researchers to take on the question for further study. They found that climate change has a direct impact on air quality. A hotter climate, wildfires, more pollen in the air and rates of airborne diseases are worsening respiratory health worldwide.

Climate change will likely affect different places in different ways, but in California it could mean hotter summers and more wildfires. The itchy eyes and sneeze-inducing allergies that plague many people during pollen season could also hang around longer if weather patterns continue to change. All of that is bad for asthmatics, children and the elderly, but also for poor people – as it turns out.

Continue reading