Tom Frantz

Tom Frantz

Feeling lethargic? Summer heat is obviously part of your problem. But, recent ozone levels in Kern County do real damage to the body’s cardiovascular system and can weaken even a healthy set of heart and lungs.

If slight chest pain and shortness of breath accompany your lethargy, you should certainly see a doctor. But, it may also be that your body is simply exhibiting the debilitating effects of ozone exposure.

This year, through July 2, Bakersfield has violated the federal health based ozone standard 28 times. Violations consist of 8 hour periods when the average level of ozone is greater than 70 parts per billion. Keep in mind, the worst part of the annual ozone season is yet to come during July, August and September. Last year, at this time, there had been only 16 local violations.

Studies show the health standard for ozone should be lower. A recent analysis of 60 million senior citizens by Harvard scientists showed that ozone exposure as low as 30 PPB has led to increased mortality. But Scott Pruitt at EPA has already rolled back the current standard to 75 PPB and Congress is trying to weaken provisions in the Clean Air Act that would enforce any of these standards.

Ozone is formed when temperatures rise to around 90 degrees and emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) mix together. NOx comes from burning fuels, and VOCs are commonly from evaporation of fuels and alcohols.

In Kern County, diesel trucks are the biggest local contributors to NOx emissions — and dairies, plus oil and gas production, contribute greatly to our VOC levels. With stagnant weather and some summer heat, our ozone levels generally skyrocket.

Our local air district claims great strides have been made in cleaning up our air because of the efforts by valley businesses. Actually, most of the improvements we have made so far are because personal vehicles are far cleaner today than a couple decades ago. We have a very long way to go in providing healthy air for people to breathe.

It is ironic that, in the area with the worst air in the nation, our air district has proposed legislation to weaken the Clean Air Act. They claim they are only after a modernization of standards. But, they also want extended deadlines, sanctions removed for failure to comply, contingency measure requirements eliminated, and violations during drought or extreme heat not to count.

This legislation, HR 806, is making its way through Congress currently. Our own legislators, Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao, are sponsors of this legislation which is basically designed to protect polluters and harm the public by weakening health protections.

The air district also seems to be lax at ensuring current rules for new sources of pollution are fully enforced. On June 23, the State Court of Appeals in Fresno ruled that the air district had failed to correctly estimate total VOC emissions of the Bakersfield Crude Terminal. This is a facility near Taft for unloading explosive oil trains from North Dakota and Canada.

For the BCT permit, the air district rounded several sources of facility emissions to zero and low-balled other emissions by using questionable assumptions. This new polluting project benefited by not having to perform expensive mitigation of their air pollution and also got their permit a lot faster in order to beat out competing oil train terminal proposals.

So, if you are feeling a little more lethargic than normal this summer you can likely put part of the blame on the air district for not doing a very good job at protecting public health.

Tom Frantz of Shafter is a local almond farmer and air quality activist.