FRESNO — The San Joaquin Valley is on course to achieve the federal ozone standard by 2022 — two years ahead of schedule if improvements continue as they have in the past decade, air officials said Thursday.
There has been a 44 percent reduction in violations over the past decade, officials said, crediting tough rules, industry investments in clean-air technology and cooperation from the public. At that rate, the standard will be achieved early, officials said.
But steep challenges remain, said Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
"We're not hanging a 'Mission Accomplished' banner," he said. "We're still one of the worst air basins in the country."
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The ozone update report was made at the district's monthly board meeting.
Over the past decade, the valley has ranked alongside the South Coast Air Basin with the most ozone violations. Last year, South Coast had the nation's highest number of ozone violations with 113. The valley was second with 98.
The violations are linked to a 1997 standard. Federal officials soon are expected to come up with a far more stringent ozone standard that might be impossible to reach by the deadline of 2031.
Basin traps bad air
Ozone is a corrosive gas that forms in warm, sunny weather when nitrogen oxides from vehicles combine with fumes from dairies, gasoline and solvents. The pollutant triggers lung problems, such as asthma.
The valley produces 40 percent fewer ozone-making gases than South Coast.
But this bowl-shaped region traps bad air, allowing pollutants to build up for days.
The air district approved a controversial ozone cleanup plan in 2007, followed by groundbreaking rules, such as fees and controls on pollution created by city sprawl.
But air activists say the district could speed the cleanup by pressing for more reductions from businesses and farmers. The activists say they suspect the district is soft on industries and deceptive in claims about improvements.
Activist Tom Franz of the nonprofit Association of Irritated Residents on Thursday said the district made the ozone cleanup look more dramatic by starting its analysis in 1999, which had a lot of violations.
He said if officials had started at 1998, which had fewer violations, the downward trend would not have been as steep. Franz said he doubts the district could reach the goal by 2022.
Sadredin said he could have looked at the trend since 1980.
Industries have spent more than $40 billion since then, and ozone-creating emissions have plummeted by 80 percent.
"There have been major improvements, and we need to acknowledge that," Sadredin said. "But we know we have significant challenges ahead."