Today is the first official "Spare the Air" day for the San Francisco Bay Area. With record heat and corresponding high levels of ground-level ozone, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District uses these gnarly days to get people to ride public transit, all of which is offered free in the region, including 25 different transit agencies. Luna Salaver with the District says about 31,000 people in the region have signed up for email air alerts, which I just did. Good to know when it's going to be polluted so I can limit my exercise to the early morning before it gets too nasty. Thanks, Luna.
The Air Quality Management District on these days tries to get people to not use fireplaces (as if!), gas-powered lawn mowers or other gas-powered machines, charcoal barbeques, and they advise people to fill up cars with gas in the evening if possible. Driving, filling up in the morning and doing these other things all contribute to local ozone pollution, which as I write is approaching the level of being "unhealthy for sensitive persons." Did you know that when you "top off your tank" and spill some gas, it's equivalent to driving more than a hundred miles in terms of the air pollutants that creates?
Knowing this made me stop doing topping our tank a year back. And I'm now even more smug about our manual lawn mower (free, left on the curbside), especially now that my son realizes how much fun it is to use it.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management district sponsors three Spare the Air days each year during non-holiday weekdays with high air pollution forecast during the period June to September. They get funded by federal grants, while the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission pays out $7.4 million to the 25 transit agencies to offset the fares lost during the three free days. Tomorrow is also a Spare the Air day, so free rides on all buses, subways, ferries, trolleys, etc. will be happening then throughout the nine county Bay Area once more.
My eyes are burning and we have fans blasting in our office. Imagine, those of you in other parts of the country, a 12-storey office building with no air conditioning system. Instead we use large windows that open, operate window shades and use cross ventilation to cool ourselves. It works pretty well as we have little humidity here in San Francisco. Would be so much more difficult to pull this off in NYC, Philly, DC, Chicago, St. Louis or any Southern city.
I wonder what they are doing in Atlanta right now, where the Air Quality Index ozone level of 196 was approaching the "very unhealthy" level of 201 at which "everyone may experience more serious health effects." Besides irritating the eyes, ground level ozone can irritate or even damage your lungs and upper respiratory system. Those with asthma also suffer labored breathing during times of ozone pollution. EPA's Air Now site has current pollutant levels for all US cities, along with such scary language about the dangers of air pollution. Were the impacts not so creepy, it's a cool site with time-lapsed animations of pollutant levels.
I rode my bike in all the way to work in downtown SF today from Marin County and will now get to take the Golden Gate Ferry for free back to Marin, then I'll ride from there back home after it begins to cool down and gets less polluted. The anti-commute commute, I call it.
Programs like Spare the Air are in a few other locations nationwide, such as Baltimore, Austin, Washington, D.C., and the State of New Hampshire. What a great idea. Now for the Bay Area they need to expand it beyond three days as those might be used up before we even hit July.