Santa Cruz County earns A for air quality

(April 27, 2011)

santa_cruz_sentinel

April 27, 2011

Santa Cruz County has some of the best air quality in California.

The American Lung Association, a clean-air advocacy group, gave Santa Cruz County a pair of A grades because it had no high ozone days and no high-particle pollution days for three years.

Santa Cruz was one of only six to earn an A for lack of soot and nine to earn an A for lack of smog.

"Tremendous progress is being made in California," said Dr. Sonal Patel, a volunteer with the American Lung Association, but she noted 37 of 50 counties received at least one failing grade for unhealthy air. "Clean air investments are working. Everyone in California needs to do their part."

Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda, and Solano counties all received failing grades for smog even though the air has gotten cleaner in those counties over the past four decades.

Contra Costa, Solano and Santa Clara also received F's for the amount of soot and other fine particles in the air. Alameda County received a D in that category.

The lung association came up with the grades by reviewing pollution readings from 2007 through 2009, then applying 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 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 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.