Bay Area suffers unusually bad air this winter

December 27, 2011 8:37:11 PM PST
This is supposed to be our rainy season here in Northern California, but not this year, no so far anyway. It's been dry and mild and hazy. All of that is combining to creating health problems for some people.

This has not been a good winter for those with respiratory problems, mainly because the pollution levels have been higher than in years past. Now, many people just want to know when our air quality will improve.

For Karen Licavoli Farnkopf and her son Zach, a bike ride has been a tough challenge this winter.

"It's tightness of chest, coughing, sneezing, so it's been a tough winter because of that," said Karen.

With pollution up, both Karen and Zach's asthma has been tough to deal with. In fact it was so bad Zach was rushed to hospital. He did recover and now Karen doubles her asthma medication this winter. The polluted air that triggers their attacks can be seen all over the Bay Area. It is that thick, gray layer on the horizon that sometimes doesn't seem to move.

"We had a very unhealthy Christmas weekend, air quality-wise. We had a lot of wood burning unfortunately, people were not heeding call, and air pollution, smoke pollution built up to very, very unhealthy levels," said Lisa Fisano with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

With 10 Spare the Air days already called this winter, officials say the air quality may not improve any time soon. The problem is the weather and wood smoke. On Christmas Day alone, air quality levels were dangerously unhealthy and Fisano warns that we could see that again this New Year's weekend.

"This cap, an inversion layer, that caps the air in the Bay Area we don't get as much movement. That's what we've seen all December, which is what has made air quality so unhealthy for us," said Fisano.

Even on no-burn days, like Christmas, 77 people were possibly violating the no-burn ban. Karen and her son hope people will remember those that struggle to breathe before they burn.

"I just really urge people to know that before they burn, they really should check to see if it's a Spare the Air night so that we keep the particulate matter low so that we have a healthy community for everybody," said Karen.

Air quality experts say there might be a slight improvement in our air quality for the next couple of days, but then this weekend there could be another jump in pollution levels and they may have to call another Spare the Air day.


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