Worst Winter on Record

Last month we saw a San Joaquin Valley December with more violations of the PM 2.5 air quality standard than ever before recorded.  Data only goes back to 1999 so there is no way to confirm that air was better or worse in the 1980’s.

There is less open burning now but there is also more ammonia in the air from massive increases in factory dairies since 2000.  This extra ammonia could actually be increasing the ammonium nitrate in our air which is the majority of our pm 2.5 problem when looking at the entire region.

Now that January has come to a close we can look at the two coolest months together and compare this year to past winters.  December and January are not quite the entire winter but the air board isolated August last year for special recognition in terms of peak ozone levels and any comparison over a month long should be a valid way to look at our progress in eliminating air pollution that is so dangerous to our health.

There is no comparison.  This is the worst winter on record.  What is really discouraging is going back to 1999 and seeing indications of some minor improvement but since 2004 that improvement seems to have stopped dead in its tracks.  The charts below tell the story.

3 thoughts on “Worst Winter on Record

  1. The average pm2.5 level for December, 1999 (Fresno): 82mcg/m3.
    The average pm2.5 level for December, 2011 (Fresno): 53mcg/m3.

    I also posted this on Mark Grossi’s Bee Earth Blog. Sorry to be so Fresno-centric. I’d be interested in obtaining November, December, January, February monthly pm2.5 averages for every monitor site in the basin. I couldn’t get ARB query site to spit out these averages, so you’ll have to trust my fingers or brain didn’t slip in calculating monthly’s from the daily averages, and I was too lazy to do it for other month’s years or sites.

    For me, one’s total intake of PM2.5 is of greater import than number of days in exceedance.

    My point isn’t to say, “Look how great things are working,” in pointing to an incremental improvement that is clearly nothing to be proud of. Both these months are sickening failures. In fact I’d call December 2010 no less a thudding disgrace. I don’t know that it’s worth arguing 2011 was the worst or some other year was by some particular statistical criterion. It’s like saying this part of hell is or is not quite so hot as some other. It’s obvious we don’t have a plan in place to protect public health.

    We do have some measures marginally adopted that have marginal effect. What I can’t accept is someone saying, “We’ve tried banning burning to little effect and we shouldn’t have so much focus on that.” On the contrary we need much more focus on actual implementation of the curtailments, as well as more rigorous attention to other stationary sources, both direct and indirect.

  2. As long as the Air Board cherry picks numbers that show how great a job they are doing, it is up to the public to point out the numbers that show the opposite. The first two years of monitoring data for PM 2.5 show very high levels on bad days. Then, these very high levels drop significantly around 2001. Ever since then there has been no meaningful improvement. The claimed improvement all happened before any rules were in place like fireplace bans. The same thing happened with PM 10. All the improvement took place a couple years after monitoring began and before any rules were made to supposedly address the problem.

  3. I find your own cherry-picking considerably less ignoble than the Air District’s. And more compelling.
    But, I think it’s a better measure of unhealthfulness to say how many packs of cigarettes one smoked in a month rather than how many days one happened to have smoked over a certain number of cigarettes.

    Isn’t there some way of generating monthly pm2.5 averages or November to February averages for each monitor as well as a valley average of all monitors? (Or a less tedious way than I employed) That set of data would be dispositive, that is, if one also went through Weather Underground’s almanac of daily observations
    and calculated strength of “wind hours” for each day.

    I noticed these ARB year-at-a-glance averages,
    segregated by county, choose to display the worst value from all the county sites available for any particular day, which weights things a bit toward the dire.

    Anyway, here are a few more averages pulled from that data that tend to make your case.

    The average PM2.5 level for Dec 1999 (Fresno): 82.0 µg/m3
    The average PM2.5 level for Dec 2002 (Fresno): 41.4 µg/m3
    The average PM2.5 level for Dec 2009 (Fresno): 36.3 µg/m3
    The average PM2.5 level for Dec 2010 (Fresno): 28.0 µg/m3
    The average PM2.5 level for Dec 2011 (Fresno): 53.0 µg/m3

    And a couple that the optimist in me wants to interpret as a ray of hope.

    Fresno County PM 2.5 average Nov & Dec 2002 & Jan 2003: 47.4 µg/m3
    Fresno County PM 2.5 average Nov & Dec 2011 & Jan 2012: 40.1 µg/m3

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