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Placer County air worst on record

By: Bruce Warren Journal Staff Writer
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The Placer County Air Quality Index (AQI) of 262 recorded on June 26 is the highest and most unhealthy since AQI has been reported. Current air quality in the Auburn area is ranked in the “very unhealthy” range. AQI rankings classify air in the 201-300 ranges “as very unhealthy,” with the 301-500 ranges being hazardous. Even readings in the 151-200 ranges are considered “unhealthy.” “This summer appears to be the worst in at least 11 years,” said meteorologist Marc Valdez of Sacramento, who explained that the particulate matter (PM-2.5) readings go back just 11 years, and are averaged over a 24-hour period. Valdez researched data from the California Environmental Protection Agency and Spare the Air records in order to find the highest AQI on record for Placer and Nevada counties. His data is limited to measurements taken from sites in Roseville and Grass Valley. The AQI, which can be found on the Web site SpareTheAir.com, should not be confused with the particulate matter (PM) reading, which measures dust particles and airborne matter resulting from forest fires. AQI readings measure pollution levels resulting from ozone contamination, but now these readings add particulate matter into the mix. “This AQI statistic is quite annoying, because it combines ozone with particulate matter,” Valdez said. “The air-quality managers wanted one number to report to the public instead of two, but now we have numbers whose meaning is rather nebulous.” On Wednesday, portable air monitor machines for Auburn and Colfax were listed as being out of operation, according to SpareTheAir.com. Ann Hobbs, air specialist with the Placer County Air Pollution Control District, said these machines are used to monitor particulate matter content. “These are very sensitive machines,” Hobbs said Wednesday. “Both went down at the same time and we already shipped them out to Oregon to be repaired.” Particulate matter readings will become available when the monitors are fixed, but Hobbs does not know how long that will take. The Oregon manufacturer for repair has already received the machines. Those concerned about inhaling particles can purchase an N-95 respirator mask, sold individually for $2.95 at the Skyridge Pharmacy at 601 Auburn Folsom Rd. These masks will filter out tiny harmful particles, but a common dust mask or handkerchief will not. In the past week, Skyridge Pharmacy sold more than 30 masks. “We’ve sold these masks, three and four at a time,” said Angela Harnar, a Skyridge Pharmacy clerk. “We’ve sold a lot of masks to caregivers, seniors and people with asthma.” The Placer County Air Pollution Control District released an air advisory statement this week, which extends through today. It advises residents to take “common-sense precautions as Placer County will continue to be affected by very unhealthy or even hazardous air quality at times.” According to the release, particulate matter found within smoke from the fires contains a multitude of particles, such as wood-tar vapors and toxic gases. Other pollutants found in smoke are carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. Those with heart and lung disease, including asthma, may experience heightened symptoms. The Air Pollution Control District advisory advises healthy people to delay strenuous outdoor exercise. Airways can be kept moist by drinking lots of water and room humidifiers may provide some comfort, according to a district release. The Journal’s Bruce Warren can be reached at brucew@goldcountrymedia.com, or comment at AuburnJournal.com