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By Lois Henry
The last time I wrote about the great Arvin air monitor scandal, I said the focus ought to be on why monitors out there had such different ozone readings.
Tantrums by state air officials and environmentalists trying to force the Arvin-Edison Water District to put an air monitor back on its land were missing the point, I wrote last November.
Lois Henry appears on "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.
I was right. (What? You thought I'd write a column about how I was wrong?!? Sillies.)
Results from a "saturation" study prompted by the different ozone readings was completed earlier this fall and will be analyzed to track how ozone moves in the Arvin area to better inform residents when and where to expect the worst air.
It was called a saturation study because the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which conducted the study, saturated the Arvin area with more than 20 monitors. To put that in perspective, the entire South Coast Air Quality Management District, which covers all of Orange and parts of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, has about 30 monitors total.
The idea behind the Arvin study, which measured ozone during August and September, typically the worst months for ozone, was to establish air patterns so the district could build models showing how ozone moves within that area.
"Right now, when we tell Kern County residents what their air quality is, it's based on two or three monitors designed to measure the worst air quality that could be 10 miles or more from their house," explained Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the air district. "Ultimately, we hope to give people neighborhood-by-neighborhood air quality information."
The Arvin saturation study was so beneficial, he said, the district plans to take it on the road, so to speak, and conduct more saturation studies in other key areas.
"Arvin has been a hot spot for ozone so it was a good place to start," he said.
Great way to take a controversy and not only get some answers, but provide a more useable service to residents.
Oh, and not incidentally, the study also showed, undeniably, that the old Arvin air monitor site had lower ozone readings than the new official site at Di Giorgio Elementary School.
The district put two monitors not 60 feet away from the old water district monitor site. Those monitors had lower readings every single day for two months than the Di Giorgio monitor.
For those of you who missed some aspects of "monitor-gate," I'll explain why that's relevant.
Back in 1989, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) plunked air monitors all over the state per EPA requirements.
It put the Arvin monitor at the Arvin-Edison Water Storage District next to its heavy equipment yard, about three miles outside of town on Bear Mountain Boulevard.
In 2009, the water district notified CARB it no longer wanted to host the air monitor and gave state officials a year to find a new site. The new site was located at Di Giorgio, also about three miles from the old site.
The water district allowed the old monitor to stay in place during 2010 while the new site was established and ozone readings from Di Giorgio were about 10 percent lower than the old water district site.
Air quality activists howled that the old monitor needed to be replaced, otherwise residents would, essentially, be tricked into thinking their air is better than it really is.
In response, the air district put a mobile monitor in Arvin that matched the Di Giorgio readings. It was pointed out that both those monitors were closer to where people actually breathe the air, unlike at the water district, which is more remote.
But the howling continued.
Meanwhile, EPA and CARB officials fretted that if the valley were ever to come into compliance with ozone standards, activists would sue because that one monitor had been moved.
CARB tried to cajole and then threaten the water district into replacing the monitor, even eschewing an available spot right across the street.
The water district stood its ground and, as I predicted, CARB's threats frittered away. Interestingly, CARB finally did respond to a question from the district about what sort of suitability study was done to put the monitor on the district's land in the first place.
CARB just put monitors in places it thought would have the worst air quality and went with it.
Well, thanks to all the monitor brouhaha, we finally do have a comprehensive study of Arvin's ozone.
No one is being tricked. Our air is improving and the new monitor is accurately reading Arvin's air quality.
News of the study's findings, however -- and the fact that the valley is finally in compliance with the old one-hour ozone standard -- was met with threats of lawsuits and angry rebukes by a number of environmental groups and air activists at the air district's meeting earlier this month.
You'd think those who are supposedly so concerned with the health effects of air pollution would now focus their energies on the new, tougher standard, which requires even smaller ozone concentrations as measured over an eight-hour time frame.
The fight against acknowledging that the valley's efforts are finally paying off continues.
Just another day in paradise.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org