A layer of hazy smog-like pollution is expected to continue blanketing the San Joaquin Valley for several days, and residential fires are a big part of the problem in Valley neighborhoods.

Weather is expected to remain cold, dry and stagnant into the middle of next week, creating conditions for air pollution emissions from several sources to accumulate and become trapped on the Valley floor, according to a news release from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

During this time, the district is requesting that residents avoid wood burning in fireplaces and stoves to reduce the health risk to neighbors from breathing in particulate matter.

Air quality officials say pollutants are often caught in low-level air during winter as a result of weather patterns, including minimal winds and strong nighttime inversions (when temperatures in the atmosphere increase with height.)

“Stable conditions like those we are currently experiencing are one of the main challenges the San Joaquin Valley faces during the winter months,” said Jaime Holt, Valley Air District chief communications officer. “This causes residential wood smoke to stay in your neighborhood, impacting the health of you and your neighbors.”

The district says that residential wood burning is one of the Valley’s largest sources of wintertime PM 2.5 emissions, which directly affects neighborhood air quality.

Residents who burn fires in pits, fireplaces or chimeneas during “no burn” days like these are subject to fines. Check before you burn by visiting valleyair.org/aqinfo/cbyb.htm or calling 800-766-4463.

PM 2.5 is a health risk for children’s developing lungs, seniors, and adults with existing cardiovascular and respiratory illness. When the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups, those individuals should stay indoors.

Residents may qualify for a Burn Cleaner incentive program and receive up to $3,000 to upgrade from wood stoves and open-hearth fireplaces to natural gas inserts. Learn more at valleyair.org/burncleaner.

Industry impact on bad air

Smoke from fireplaces is not the only cause of elevated PM 2.5 in the Valley. Large polluting industries also produce particulate matter, including oil and gas facilities operated by Chevron USA and Sentinel Peak Resources, as well as biomass and glass facilities — and advocates say regulators can do more to protect public health.

A coalition of non-profit organizations have called upon the Valley Air Pollution Control District and the California Air Resources Board to increase enforcement of clean air rules and adopt additional pollution reduction measures.

“We know the major contributors to our air pollution: the oil industry, industrialized agribusiness, as well as sprawling and mismatched land uses with heavily trafficked transportation networks,” the coalition says in a letter sent to the agencies in October 2020.

The letter is signed by directors of Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, Central California Environmental Justice Network, Environmental Justice Program at Catholic Charities Diocese of Stockton, Association of Irritated Residents, National Parks Conservation Association, Clean Water Action, Coalition for Clean Air, Leadership Council For Justice and Accountability, Little Manila Rising, Fresno Building Healthy Communities and Earthjustice.

Collectively, they state in the letter that “The San Joaquin Valley Air District can certainly do more to regulate and enforce regulations on stationary sources, particularly in disproportionately impacted communities.”

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