Residents of Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley have probably heard that the air they breathe is some of the worst, if not the worst, in the country. However, many people may not really appreciate the harm smog and other air pollutants can do. Unlike the popular song that is often paraphrased, if air pollution doesn’t kill you, then it doesn’t really make you stronger.
First, what is smog? The word smog originated a long time ago and was a combination of the words “smoke” and “fog.” Today, the term refers to ozone pollution, an oxidant that isn’t significantly emitted directly from anything, but is instead formed as the result of a photochemical reaction between other air pollutants in the presence of sunlight. The other pollutants are volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOX). (See related article, Ten things you can do at home to reduce smog.)
In addition to the chemicals and sunlight, smog also needs certain atmospheric and/or topographical conditions to form. Both the San Joaquin Valley and the South Coast Air Basin encompassing Los Angeles can be thought of as large ‘boxes” with surrounding mountains as their sides. Coupled with frequent temperature inversions that act as a “lid” to prevent emissions from being dispersed, these air basins more often than not serve as perfect reactor vessels for the formation of photochemical smog.
In addition to smog, tons of other pollutants such as sulfur oxides (SOX), particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and other chemicals are added to the air we breathe every day. See related article, Who contributes the most air pollution in the Valley – five surprising answers.)
Both California and the federal government have set ambient air quality targets, or standards, for the maximum amounts of pollutants that can be present in order to ensure that the air we breathe is healthy. Although significant progress has been made, both Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley have a long way to go to meet those standards.
As the attached video shows, air pollution can cause a variety of health problems. It has been associated with heart disease, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, and other maladies. A list of some of those effects is shown below:
- Irritation of mucous membranes
- Coughing and wheezing
- Chest pain and tightness
- Dry throat
Here in Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley, there are 4 agencies responsible for regulating sources of air pollution:
San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD)
Eastern Kern Air Pollution Control District (EKAPCD)
California Air Resources Board (ARB)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The first two mainly focus on stationary sources of air pollution, ARB on mobile sources, and EPA on sources of all types. ARB’s regulations are as stringent, if not moreso, than EPA’s regulations and the same can be said for many of the SJVAPCD and EKAPCD regulations.
All of the above agencies have further information about the health effects of air pollution and can be found at the following links:
Suggested further reading:
EPA survey shows $384 billion needed for aging drinking water infrastructure
ARB claims diesel engine controls reducing climate change impact in California