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Water crisis negates progress on reducing small particulate matter

California’s ongoing drought is affecting a lot more than just food prices.
It’s affecting the air that you breathe in on a daily basis.
In a presentation Wednesday night to members of the community and representatives from Manteca Unified School District, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Outreach and Communication Representative Anthony Presto pointed out that one of the major issues that the district is trying to manage – small particulate matter from dust and smoke known as PM 2.5 – was almost under control.
But then the water dried up.
With Federal oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency and a mandate to bring PM 2.5 levels down to the threshold that was set more than a decade ago, the district was inching towards meeting that and had years of successive decline before 2012 drastically altered the measurable quantity of the microscopic particles – which are about the size of a grain of sand – that can cause serious breathing problems and even spur heart attacks if absorbed deep enough into tissue.
It’s through educational efforts like the one he presented on Wednesday, Presto says, that the public can become aware of the issues that are facing California’s Central Valley and what steps are being taken on a regional level to ensure that Federal guidelines and mandates are met by the 2024 deadline that could threaten billions of dollars in transportation money if not addressed.
“Educating the public is vital in understanding the air quality here in the valley and being able to arm with the information to improve the air here in order to protect public health,” Presto said. “It’s the first time that we’ve done a presentation like this here at Manteca Unified, but a lot of times we’ll visit any group or service organization that wants to learn more about what we do and the efforts that are underway to improve the quality of air that we all breathe here.”
In all there were less than a dozen people that attended Wednesday’s session, but that didn’t prevent Presto from outlining not only the issues that the Central Valley faces when it comes to air pollution – an inversion layer that acts like a cooktop to trap air within the confines and mountains that prevent the air from dispersing – but also the strides that have been made by the nation’s largest air pollution control district.
Encompassing San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Fresno, Tulare, Kings and portions of Kern County, the district has made progress that nobody thought was possible – including becoming the first in the nation to go from “extreme” air pollution to meeting the Federal government’s one-hour ozone standards for three consecutive years.
Since the district was formed businesses have cut emissions by 80 percent, and the reduction for PM 10 particles was met in 2005. The district was on track to meet the PM 2.5 standard by 2013, but the drought – the worst on record in almost four decades – brought the measurable small particles back up to previous levels.
While the San Joaquin Valley is unique in the sense that pollution from the Bay Area and from Sacramento make their way down into the basin, Presto said three quarters of all measurable air pollution is created right here at home.
“Generally just getting the information out to the public is what we’re trying to do,” Presto said. “This is an important issue because it affects people’s health at it can some serious financial ramifications if it’s not addressed.
“We want to keep the public informed of everything that’s going on, and sessions like this allow us to do that.”