San Luis Obispo has the ninth most polluted days in California, according to the American Lung Association.
San Luis Obispo has the ninth most polluted days in California, according to the American Lung Association.

Jessica Burger

San Luis Obispo County residents are often confused by the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report, which this past year placed San Luis Obispo as the ninth most polluted city by ozone with a letter grade of “F.” 

The annual report has been given for 13 years, and according to the manager for the planning and outreach division for the San Luis Obispo Air and Pollution Control District (APCD), Aeron Arlin Genet, the report’s grading technique uses a set of standards that differs from California state standards.

“It’s been a challenge for us here locally every year,” Genet said. “They don’t take a look at the state standard, which is typically more health concerned.”

According to Genet, the report bases its grades on data collected by air quality monitoring stations. In San Luis Obispo, one of the monitoring stations located in east county happens to be in a spot that picks up pollution moving into the county from other sources.

“There are times when Red Hills and Carrizo Plains gets pretty high, but there are no real sources of pollution out there,” Genet said. “The way it’s located, it’s really good at picking up pollution from places elsewhere in the state.”

The area where the two monitoring stations are located also holds less than 1 percent of the population. In fact, the portion of the county in which approximately 90 to 99 percent of the population lives, would receive an “A,” Genet said.

When the American Lung Association compiles all the data for the county, it draws an average — the monitoring data from the stations in Red Hills and Carizzo Plains drastically lowers that average.

“It’s very tough because we live here and it’s beautiful — we have the vistas, we go out hiking and running, and when we get that ‘F’ grade, it’s very confusing,” Genet said. “It’s frustrating, but it’s a tool that the American Lung Association uses to highlight the effects of pollution, and we think that’s a good thing. We just don’t like the way the grading is applied to our county.”

Business administration senior Brett Edwards, who also works as an environmental activist by the name of Mr. Eco, said he found the report upsetting when he first heard about it.

“Being the prince of fresh air, I am sad to hear San Luis Obispo received an ‘F’ in the report,” Edwards said. “I have worked with SLO’s APCD in the past and know that they are doing their best to improve our air quality.”

According to regional director for programs and advocacy for the American Lung Association Jenny Bard, the ozone pollution monitors were installed in 2006 and have since lowered San Luis Obispo’s air quality grade on the report.

“These higher elevation monitors show that there is substantial amount of air pollution that is generating elsewhere,” Bard said. “Looking at the border areas, the transport of pollution from the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valley regions are responsible for the unhealthy air in the region.”

Bard said the American Lung Association is working toward reducing ozone pollution for the entire state of California, mainly through the lowering from vehicles, trucks and manufacturing.

“I think the key message is that air pollution does travel and it can affect the health of those areas directly where the source is coming from, as well as the areas it travels to,” Bard said.

The SLO APCD website offers daily air quality ratings that residents are encouraged to use.

People who tend to be more sensitive to poor air quality — anyone who suffers from respiratory issues such as asthma, cardiac issues, allergies, growing children and even seniors — may benefit by checking the quality of the air before outside activities, Genet said.

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