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SMOG MILESTONE NEAR SOUTHLAND MAY FINALLY MEET FEDERAL CARBON MONOXIDE STANDARD.

Byline: Kerry Cavanaugh Staff Writer

Hold your breath. If the weather holds true for just three more days, Southern California's air will qualify as legally free of a major component of smog.

Air quality officials said Friday that the region will score a major victory in the war on smog if carbon monoxide emissions stay low through New Year's Eve as they have for all but one day in the past two years. That would mark the first time the Los Angeles area met federal environmental standards for carbon monoxide since records have been kept.

Southern California has shown a dramatic drop in the smog-forming pollutant over the past decade, primarily due to newer cars that emit significantly less fumes than older models, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Still, the four-county district remains the smoggiest region in the nation with unhealthy levels of ozone and particulate matter pollution.

But reaching the federal standard for carbon monoxide is an important milestone and one that Southern California will have to maintain over the next few years to keep from going back on the list of areas that fail to meet carbon monoxide standards.

``We've come a long way, and we're at the point now where it's hard to get (high levels of carbon monoxide),'' said Joe Cassmassi, senior meteorologist with the AQMD. ``There is the outside likelihood that we could see an exceedence in 2003, but that likelihood goes down every year as there are cleaner cars on the road.''

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless poisonous gas that inhibits the blood's ability to carry oxygen to organs and tissue. It is especially dangerous to infants, the elderly and people with heart or respiratory problems.

Carbon monoxide is formed during incomplete burning of fuel, and tailpipes account for 78 percent of carbon monoxide emissions.

It's a particular problem in the winter months because automobile emission control devices, such as catalytic converters, don't operate as efficiently. Then an inversion layer hangs low over the region and traps the pollutants close to the ground.

The state has enacted the nation's toughest tailpipe standards, and the AQMD required factories and stationary sources of pollution to cut carbon monoxide emissions.

But the region has always been hampered by the sheer number of cars on Southern California roads, said Jack Broadbent, air division chief for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pacific Southwest region.

``California, because of its problems, has implemented tighter regulations'' than most other states, he said. ``Southern California and the state of California need to be congratulated on reaching the (carbon monoxide) standard.''

The region was supposed to comply with the federal standard by 2000 but logged a few too many days with excessive levels. The EPA gave the area an extension since it was so close to compliance, Broadbent said.

To be in compliance, Southern California had to show two consecutive years with no more than one day per year exceeding the carbon monoxide limit.

The region posted no bad days in 2001 and one bad day in January of this year, so it needs to make it through Tuesday without a day exceeding the carbon monoxide pollution limit.

Weather forecasters expect rain and wind in the coming week, which tend to disperse carbon monoxide pollution.

``My feeling now is that we won't set up conditions for carbon monoxide exceedences in the next few days,'' Cassmassi said.

Southern California needs to maintain the clean record through 2003 to stay in compliance, he said. El Nio forecasts predicting stormy, windy and rainy conditions will help lessen the risk in coming months.

The AQMD area comprises Los Angeles and Orange counties and parts of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Most areas are largely free of carbon monoxide pollution, except the Lynwood area south of downtown where freeways and topography converge to lock in pollution. The San Fernando Valley hasn't had a carbon monoxide violation since a 1997 occurrence in Reseda.

In 1992, some 20 cities in the United States exceeded federal standards for carbon monoxide. Today Southern California is one of the last urban regions to clean up the pollutant.

Calexico near the Mexican border is still struggling to control carbon monoxide but is hampered by the influx of Mexican trucks that don't have emission controls, officials said.

Las Vegas and Phoenix have recently met the carbon monoxide standard and are waiting for the EPA to make compliance official, Broadbent said.

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CLEANER AIR

SOURCE: Daily News research

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 28, 2002
Words:752
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