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    Public Deserves Real-Time, Not Bureaucratically Neutered Pollution Data

    (February 7, 2006) -- has been pleased to report in detail on the South Coast Air Quality Management District's no-nonsense approach to Port-related pollution and "goods movement" issues. The AQMD Board's recent vote effectively defying an unhelpful RR-CA Air Resources Bd. MOU was among AQMD's finest hours.

    Sadly, the recent Southland brushfire (in the Anaheim hills) compels us to raise a nagging issue we've had with AQMD since the 2003 San Bernardino Mtn. fires. It concerns AQMD's antiquated method of disseminating information when events create high acute levels of particulate pollution.

    Instead of providing real time pollution data, AQMD persists in offering only "24 hour average" PM levels. This is akin to the weather service giving a lower 24 hour-averaged temperature when it's really 110 degrees.

    AQMD may deny it, but it's neutering the publicly-released data for bureaucratic, not scientific reasons. Federal and state bureaucrats have written their pollution standards in terms of "24 hour" average doses.

    We believe withholding the real time data disserves the public and entities like the LB Unified School District (LBUSD). Parents and principals have to decide whether it's smart to have kids exercising and playing outdoors.

    "Localized air quality events, such as wildfires that create smoke, may not be reflected in the data presented," says AQMD's air quality web page in a butt-covering caveat. The AQMD added this verbiage (and a related release on smoke hazards) in 2003 after began pursuing a story on the agency's failure to provide timely information about 2003 San Bernardino mountain fire fallout.

    [Nov. 2003: Fire Fallout, Mass Health Impacts, Antiquated, Inaccurate, Incomplete Public Info: What AQMD Didn't Tell LB & Southeast L.A. & Orange County Areas Until Too Late]

    Over two years have passed...and AQMD's "averaged" figures continue to disserve users.

    On the morning of Feb. 6, 2006, with a large smoke plume and cloud covering much of the eastern sky and some ash already falling in ELB, some sensible LBUSD schools kept kids inside although elsewhere kids played outside and inhaled the stuff. Our sources tell us AQMD didn't send an advisory to schools until the which time most students had already gone home.

    At the end of the business day on Feb. 6, received an emailed release indicating the City's Health Officer, Dr. Darryl Sexton, M.D. advised "all individuals with breathing problems to take extra precautions during the current poor air quality from southern California fires." [We presume he likewise didn't get AQMD's "advisory" until the afternoon.] We quote from Dr. Sexton's release in pertinent part:

    The individuals most at risk for respiratory problems include people with asthma and other lung conditions and other respiratory allergies...[T]hey should stay indoors as much as possible, and to keep windows closed to minimize contact with smoky ash ridden air. Turning on the air conditioner also assists in filtering outside air.

    Smoky conditions can be hazardous for young children, the elderly, individuals with heart conditions or chronic lung disease such as asthma and bronchitis...

    All individuals should discontinue prolonged vigorous outdoor exercise lasting more than one hour. While driving, drivers should keep their windows rolled up and air conditioners on to assist in filtering the air. Use a recirculation function on your air conditioner if available instead of drawing smoky air from the outside.

    [We posted a link to the release on our front page hours later after returning from covering stories.]

    At dawn on Feb. 7 (when firefighters were beginning to contain the blaze), AQMD's Air Quality web page indicated a 24-hour rolling "average" PM AQI [Air Quality Index] of 41, even higher (i.e. worse) than Feb. 6's highest 24-hour "average" PM figure of 37 (when in real time the fire was at its worst). By 11 a.m. on February 7 (by which time firefighters reported some containment), the AQMD's 24-hour "average" AQI had risen to 42.

    We presume that on Feb. 6, hourly PM levels were rising rapidly and were almost certainly higher than the "averaged" readings posted on AQMD's website on February 6. How much higher? AQMD knows (or should know) but hasn't said.

    But here's what AQMD did say regarding the San Bernardino mountain fires in October 2003:

    Oct. 28, 2003

    Southland air quality officials...advised all residents -- especially children, the elderly and those with heart and lung disease -- to curtail outdoor activities if they smell smoke or see falling ash in their area...

    Smoke contains a number of air pollutants, from fine particulates to carbon monoxide to cancer-causing toxic air contaminants such as benzo-a-pyrene. Limiting outdoor activities and staying indoors can help reduce one’s exposure to these pollutants...

    For more information on current air quality and the health effects of wildfire smoke, see the following websites:...
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency information:
    Wildfire Smoke: A Guide for Public Officials:

    Brushfires are associated with Santa Ana (NE) winds. LB is in the path of those winds and frequently receives fallout from eastern mountain fires. LB has an interest in having real-time data.

    We urge LBUSD management (perhaps joining with other school districts) and LB city management (perhaps with SCAG) to convey to AQMD management that the agency should provide real-time pollution data (including PM) on its website.

    LB school principals, LB health officials and the taxpaying, breathing public deserves to know conditions when the information is useful, not afterward.

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