County air fails to make the grade |

County air fails to make the grade

Susan Wood

The American Lung Association says El Dorado County’s air quality stinks.

El Dorado was one of 33 California counties to receive a failing grade in a recently released pollution report.

But before you run out and sell your house or buy a gas mask, consider this: The bulk of the bad air lurks on the west slope between Placerville and El Dorado Hills.

“Transporting ozone is increased with vehicle activity (on the west slope),” said association spokesman and consulting engineer Earl Withycombe from his Sacramento office. “(Lake Tahoe is) downwind of the west slope. Your residents should make sure that air quality is addressed with each land-use plan.

“At this point, you’re blessed with reasonably clean air in comparison to the west slope of the county,” Withycombe said. “But we’ll have to look for changes with traffic levels.”

Motor vehicle emissions are the main cause of ground-level ozone, a corrosive gas triggering the formation of smog through reactions to other chemical agents.

Scientists say the ozone in the stratosphere protects the Earth from ultraviolet light.

Other pollutant sources include power plants and dry cleaners.

“Anything that burns contributes to poor air quality,” California Air Resources Board spokeswoman Gennet Osborn said.

“Ozone is the most widespread pollution problem in the United States,” Osborn added.

The federal standard of ozone level is 0.12, while the state’s is 0.09.

South Lake Tahoe’s ozone levels run lower than both standards. The parts-per-million levels were 0.083 last year, 0.095 in 1999 and 0.081 in 1998.

The levels tend to roll like the hills, with hot summer days producing more ozone.

CARB monitors stations at Echo Summit – a new site as of last year. Other sites include Sandy Way, Zephyr Cove and Incline Village.

In coordination with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the lung association graded the three-year study on the curve. It used a methodology by which it gauged how many days a county exceeded an average determined by its counterparts.

“Right now, (Lake Tahoe is) doing pretty good. It seems to be slowly increasing, consistent with the growth in the foothills,” said Jennifer Quashnick, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s air quality specialist.

TRPA is pushing for more monitoring stations.

“We’re concerned. That’s why we’re increasing our efforts,” she said.

Comparatively, eight California metropolitan areas – Sacramento, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia-Tulare-Porterville, Merced, San Diego and Redding – were among the 25 most polluted in the country.

An estimated 29 million Californians breathe dirty air, the association reported.

The American Lung Association has found an increase in the severity and frequency in asthma attacks.

Notably, the number of asthma cases in children has doubled in the United States in the last 15 years, it reported. The pollutants are also a problem for bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer sufferers.

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