Lung Association gives F's to four Bay Area counties for air quality

(April 28, 2011)

Silicon Valley Mercury News

April 28, 2011

A clean-air group has given failing grades for air pollution to Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara and Solano counties in its annual report, even though the air has gotten cleaner in those counties over the past four decades.

The counties received an F for too much smog in the report by the American Lung Association in California. Contra Costa, Solano and Santa Clara also received Fs for the amount of soot and other fine particles in the air. Alameda County received a D in that category.

The lung association, a clean-air advocacy and educational group, came up with the grades by reviewing pollution readings from 2007 through 2009.

Then the group applied its own rating system based on the severity and frequency of bad air readings in counties.

"We see tremendous progress in air quality but air pollution is still a problem that causes asthma attacks, sends people to hospitals and causes premature deaths," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior policy director for the group.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency also has found that air quality in the Bay Area isn't good enough, even though peak smog readings have declined since the late 1960s.

The EPA has found that the nine-county Bay Area fails to meet the meet the federal public health standards for smog because of too many smoggy days in warm months. Lisa Fasano, spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, agreed pollution reductions are needed, but said it's more useful to look at air pollution by region rather than by county.

Air pollution drifts across county borders, and concentrates in some areas because of weather and geography that traps smog in warm, inland valleys, Fasano said.

While cool and breezy San Francisco received an A for smog, fumes from San Francisco cars and trucks can drift into inland counties and increase smog readings, she said.

Marin, Sonoma and San Mateo counties also got A grades for smog in the report.

Holmes-Gen agreed air pollution is a regional problem, but added that analyzing it by county shows that pollution can harm people near them.

The report is posted online at