Environment

Merced air is bad from fires up north. Fireworks will make it worse, experts say

Farm equipment sends dust into the air on a farmland near West Bellevue Road in Merced, Calif., on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.
Farm equipment sends dust into the air on a farmland near West Bellevue Road in Merced, Calif., on Tuesday, July 3, 2018. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

Smoke is cascading into Merced County from the huge fire in the northern part of the state leading to poor air quality, and fireworks are about to make it significantly worse, according to health officials.

Central San Joaquin Valley residents should be aware of the health risks associated with poor air quality and a "cautionary statement" issued on Monday and Tuesday by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, experts said. The warning comes after more than 70,000 acres burned in the County Fire in Napa Valley, causing smoke to drift south.

The health caution from pollution experts is expected to continue until the fire is extinguished. It was 5 percent contained as of Tuesday, according to Calfire.

And, now, with the Fourth of July upon the Valley, health officials are asking residents to consider not spraying more particulates into the air by setting off fireworks at home.

To decrease the amount of soot, ash and metals in the air, officials recommend Valley residents celebrate Independence Day by going to a professional fireworks show, according to Samir Sheikh, the district’s deputy air pollution control officer.

“Each year, people suffer serious health consequences from direct exposure in the neighborhoods where they live and breathe … from firework activities that are entirely preventable," he said.

The particulate matter in the air is the most hazardous to small children and elderly adults with respiratory problems, officials said. It is bad for lungs and can cause heart problems.

Each year on the Fourth of July, air monitors across the Valley show spikes in particulate matter concentrations that often reach four to five times higher than the federal standards, according to the air district. The spikes appear between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., about the time people are are lighting fireworks in their front yards.

Officials say it's better to stay inside an air-conditioned building rather than continue to breathe in smoke and other particulates. If you can see ash or smell smoke, you're experiencing poor air quality, the district said.

"The County Fire continued to burn actively throughout the day," Calfire reported. "The potential for growth remains high as crews battle the fire in difficult terrain. Firefighters continued to work through the day to construct new containment lines and defend structures impacted by the fire."

The air district provides real-time air quality data by address across the Valley, which residents can track at www.myraan.org.

The Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

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