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Drought is making it hard to meet air pollution reduction demands

Due to pollution, a "no burn" alert has been issued for LA, Orange County and the Inland Empire.
David McNew/Getty Images
Due to pollution, a "no burn" alert has been issued for LA, Orange County and the Inland Empire.

Local air regulators acknowledged on Friday that they are uncertain they will be able to meet federal air quality standards for microscopic particles of air pollution by an end-of-year deadline.

The acknowledgement was included in a proposed supplement to an existing plan to reduce the amounts of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5.

The pollution comes from vehicles, diesel and industrial emissions. Some of it is smaller than 1/30 the width of a human hair and can enter into the bloodstream. It has been linked to a host of health issues, including asthma and heart problems.

The board of the South Coast Air Quality Management District voted on Friday to approve the supplement to the air quality plan. Environmental groups are dissatisfied with the plan, because they feel it does not include concrete steps to reach satisfactory levels of PM2.5.

“We breathe some of the most polluted air in the nation, and the plan that was approved today just doesn’t show that it’s going to meet clean air standards on time,” said Adrian Martinez, an attorney for EarthJustice.

The plan places much of the blame for non-attainment on the continuing drought. Lack of rain has meant that more of the particles have remained in the air, leading average levels to remain high. While a wet 2015 could bring levels into line with federal requirements, AQMD officials wrote that such an outcome is far from guaranteed.

Martinez said that irregular weather events should be incorporated into considerations of particulate matter monitoring. He said the agency should improve other areas to accommodate a drier future.

“We have a lot of pollution in this region. We have a need to promote clean energy; we have a need to get cleaner trucks, ships, trains on the road; and I think this was a missed opportunity to really push that forward,” Martinez said.