Bay Area sees increase in Spare the Air days

Increase of particulate pollution due to cold weather accounts for poor air quality

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued the ninth consecutive winter alert on Jan. 9 via Spare the Air, a program created by the organization to reduce air pollution.

Throughout the summer and winter seasons, Spare the Air anticipates the forecast to reach dangerously high levels on the air quality index (AQI), which acts as a scale determining the severity of daily air pollution concentrations.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established the AQI scale, and Spare the Air is responsible for issuing alerts to the San Francisco Bay Area when the air pollutants exceed 100 on the air quality index, as it is potentially harmful for the public. The air quality index refers to the moderate amount of particulate matter (PM) in the air. PM is measured in both PM10 and PM2.5.  Particulate matter 2.5 is considered more concerning for human health, as the small particles have the potential to travel deeper into one’s lungs.

The poor quality occurs due to the tiny particles of particulate matter produced, which results in significant health complications.

Polluted winter air tends to transpire from November through February. According to Spare the Air, in the wintertime, the cold weather traps particulates close to the ground, creating unhealthy air quality. There have been a greater number of Spare the Air alerts in early January, due to the presence of a high pressure system over the bay area. A high pressure system is caused when hot air cools and condenses, dropping down.

“Since [the high pressure system] has been here for so long, it kind of just builds up and exacerbates the [poor] air quality,” Walter Wallace, a public information officer at the Air District offices, said.

Spare the Air also states that the wood smoke from the 1.4 million woodstoves and fireplaces makes up one-third of the overall particulate matter pollution. In attempt to decrease overall pollution, wood burning is prohibited throughout the bay area during the winter spare the air alerts.

Chemistry and Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher Kenyon Scott has been informing his students of the current air pollution issue and has recognized some solutions to improve the bay area’s predicament.