There's been plenty of bad news this March as social distancing and the governor's stay-at-home order have resulted in the closure of local businesses, the cancellation of sporting events and the postponement of concerts, theater dates and even children's play dates.

But isn't it possible that at least one thing is better? One big thing?

The short answer is ... maybe.

Valley air quality experts say it's too soon to know for sure, but there are indications that the valley's air is cleaner and healthier as many residents stay off the roads, opting for TV rather than catching a movie, eating in vs. eating out, and playing board games at home instead of attending basketball games elsewhere.

"It's really too early to tell," said Jaime Holt, chief communications officer at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

The district's scientists and technicians have only had about 2 1/2 weeks since California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued his stay-at-home order designed to slow the spread of COVID-19. That's not enough to gather quantifiable data and compare that data with similar months in previous years, Holt said.

But there are some hints that trends are moving in the right direction.

"We are beginning to see a bit of a drop in NOx emissions," Holt said of measurements taken from a roadside monitor on the south end of Fresno.

NOx, or oxides of nitrogen, have harmful direct effects on human health and are a problem pollutants year round. Vehicle NOx emissions have been regulated since the 1960s.

"Eighty percent of NOx comes from mobile sources," Holt said. Sources like "trucks, trains, off-road equipment, passenger vehicles, basically anything that has wheels."

As the volume of traffic has dropped — a Sacramento Bee review of Unacast data shows that, on average, Californians have reduced their miles traveled by nearly half — it is believed that air quality will benefit, as it has in China, Italy and other nations where shutdowns have been taken seriously.

Traffic counts are also expected, in time, from the Kern Council of Governments, which closely studies transportation throughout the county.

Rob Ball, director of planning at KernCOG, said in an email the agency's traffic counts are posted approximately one to two months after they are taken, so it is still early to know precisely how drivers in Kern responded to the Governor’s stay at home order.

But Holt noted that the air district is seeing anecdotal evidence that points toward reductions in emissions.

"We think that probably, in time, we will see a reduction," she said.

With so much air displacement in March due to a string of low pressure systems that blew through the valley — air movement that tends to blow out pollution — it may be difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of measured improvements in air quality.

"In addition, we're coming off of the cleanest winter on record," Holt said, a victory she attributed, at least in part, to tighter restrictions on wood burning in the valley and more residents buying into the noticeable benefits to the air they breathe. 

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

(29) comments

2carpoor

Mr. Trump has become Mr. Murphy's Law spokes person. As our air has improved, he has decided to roll back the emissions standards established by the Obama administration. Not because it will improve our lives. That's not his style. He's too sick to be rational. Auto makers claim it will make cars less expensive and more will be sold. Uh... unemployed people can't afford new autos. Valley residents can't afford worse air. So even if there are fewer cars on the road, they will spew more cr*p into the air. Pretty slick. Do you think he did this for you? I suggest you re-think this whole debacle of a presidency.

Legumedude

Perhaps the answer is not either weather blowing out smog, or fewer vehicles putting exhaust into the air. Maybe the answer is both. It seems to me that there is a lot of passion being generated over pleasant air quality.

Lilyrose

Your oil business head CEO s are meeting to beg for money from Trump. Well, not his money, but ours.

Drill local, often and dirty. Motto of our community.

Want a solid chance if beating this virus and others, keep your lungs healthy.

dickiedoodle

Wow...…! How did the article generate all of the political comments? Can't some people simply accept the information as presented without reading their own agendas into it?

She Dee

Sadly, I must report that we do not live in a cookie cutter world.

She Dee

Yes, ONE benefit of people driving less could be better air quality. Another is less wear and tear on the roads, and a clear field of vision to keep the streets under security surveillance if and when chaos should erupt in the streets! When I hear that Homeland Security is "recommending" that gun shops be allowed to stay open to the public as "essential" services, I have to wonder if they know something they are not telling the masses. All stories have alternate endings at this point in time. The Prez just took off the current air pollution restrictions, so I guess it's a a moot point in the grand scheme of things! Pollute til yer hearts are happy and you run out of gas, or money, or Marshall Law kicks in and no one can go anywhere! Enjoy our new way of "living".

Lamonster

As they say, every cloud has a silver lining. It does seem to me that the air is a bit cleaner these days, thanks to several factors. Of course people staying home and moving about less has contributed to less emissions from burning fuel. But we're also burning less fuel due to a relatively warm winter, meaning fewer hours using the furnace and the fireplace. And of course there is less pollution drifting down the valley from the north on the air currents. If this keeps up for a few more months we may get close to the pristine conditions that used to allow those great views of our surrounding mountains. Of course there will be many fewer of us around to enjoy it due to this and other pandemics that are sure to follow as a result of our crashed economy, like hunger, crime and lack of goods and services including medical. So let's all clean our windows so that we can enjoy the view during our forced hiatus and hope that our leaders finally get something right, sooner rather than later.

Boris25

Get real, until China does something about it's pollution the air quality in the valley will never get better

Lilyrose

Air quality is in our control. It won't be perfect but overall average readings will decline due to local reduction of refinery and combustion out put.

It starts at home. You have control. You decide.

Boris25

Air quality is not in your control. You regurgitate typical Liberal talking points at least get your facts straight. Studies show that China and other Asian countries are the number one contributors to California pollution. Over the last couple of decades, the United States has decreased its production of air pollution by 50%. On top of that, California has some of the strictest environmental regulations in the United States. Despite these two factors, China pollution has been canceling out any improvement in air quality in America. So, until China does something, you can plant all the trees you want, drive an electric car, go solar, use wind power and destroy the American petroleum industry and California will still have a air pollution problem.

Lilyrose

Nope. Better take a look at local. Can't refine & frack without repercussions.

If you don't like China's pollution then don't buy.

The article represents a worldwide phenomenon. Cleaner air and water.

BakoMark

Guess the rain had nothing to do with it.

forrestfaulkner

Once again political views seem to be behind too many comments. Can’t the bashing of people due to their political affiliation be put on hold for awhile at least until this virus comes under control or does whatever it will do. Coming together as a community, or at least as fellow Americans by doing our part to maintain social distancing and staying home except for essential needs but coming together in our hearts because it will not be long before more and more people die from this damned virus. We may all be touched by it personally by losing a loved one or a good friend. This virus does not recognize political parties or economic social categories nor does it recognize races or borders drawn on a map. Put all the negativity aside. If there was ever a time when it was a good thing to put political divide aside; the time would be now !

Bodysnatcher

I guess I'll rain on the parade: the air quality has improved because of the recent weather systems which quickly moved over the southern end of the valley. There's less traffic on the freeways, but not as one would think in this crisis. Local traffic last Friday and Saturday (day and night) looked more normal than one would think. The only obvious place in Bakersfield where traffic has definitely declined is the bars and restaurants down town. If there's less traffic causing the cleaner air it's from the traffic up north being less.

Lilyrose

Ya, don't worry bodysnatcher. The air will return to Bakersfield normal. You all love that.

Bodysnatcher

Only on thing would make it even better lilybutt.

Stephen

Fewer vehicles being driven, better air quality? Wow. Who'd have thought there might be a connection between less fossil fuel powered miles driven and cleaner air.

So the stable genius in the White House thinks rolling back Obama era clean air standards is a good thing. I'm sure his passionate fans think it's just fine since they apparently don't get the connection between dirty air and consuming fossil fuels or have a clue there are sound alternatives that could give us the lifestyle we desire without the requisite air pollution.

Lilyrose

Stephen:. Don't stop commenting. Please. Over the months to come I need to know I'm not living in an alternative universe. This place is so different from what I have always known. Knew only of clean, safe, relaxed.

Keep speaking up . Please.

Lilyrose

It is wonderful. Yes, it's obvious.

But who cares.

All Star

Good to know. I'll now feel better laying in ICU, on a ventilator, dying, that the valley air is cleaner.

alexkelley

AGAIN! Total BS from an activist leftist reporter. No FACTS , no PROOF, NOTHING to substantiate anything written in this article. Just more leftist “people are bad” “industry is bad” gobbledygook trying to use an American catastrophe to push their jaded, twisted, destructive ideology. Pathetic TBC. Mayer needs to be fired for total irresponsibility & partisan pandering using what is supposed to be a objective news reporting agency. Utter garbage.

Brazengunrunner91

alexkelley PLEASE SHUT UP! Thanks!

jey

Your feedback is absurd. I appreciate Mayer even handed reporting and clearly less people driving means less pollution. Thank God for TBC and the great work they do to give our community visibility to important things happening. Go back to your Facebook news feed.

Lilyrose

You know what's pathetic, Kelly ?

Your desire to keep people sick. Covid 19 has nothing on folks like you.

Stephen

Too many on the populist right consider anything that doesn't affirm their world view as part of some deep evil plot to undermine civilization as the see it. They confuse affirmation with information decrying what they see that doesn't affirm their narrative as false. The problem is their narrative is based on trying to see the future by looking backwards and imagining a fantasy world being denied them by some kind of leftist conspiracy. Oh, how they do love their conspiracies.

The paper publishing a story that is not only germane but reflects a trend seen elsewhere in the world with the virus shutdown as possibly applying here. This speaks to the annual experience in Tokyo on the 3 day New Years holiday, the most important holiday in Japan. Day 3 is the one day of the year citizens of Tokyo can see Mt. Fuji. Seeing the reduction of automobile traffic over a period of time and improvements in air quality isn't a stretch, irrelevant or reflection of some nefarious plot.

While there are those among us who think the tools of civilization can be used today as if it was seventeen hundred and something simply don't grasp the fact that the world today is much different than it was a couple or so centuries ago and, as such, needs different responses than what worked then.

So, sorry but (not sorry) this story was germane, topical and well written. It, like all such stories, requires the reader to have the sophistication to think critically, not jump to some nonsense ideologically based assumption based on preconceived notions. So don't hold your breath waiting to see Steve in the unemployment line any time soon.

Moardeeb

You do realize that Democratic Socialism is what's holding this country up right now? Stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, mortgage forgiveness? Socialism man. So that makes you a leftist too!

Vico17

Keep taking from the Capitalist pie until the whole pie is gone. Take, take, take. You need capitalism to build the pie first and foremost. You can't give away what you don't have and you think sitting at home is the answer...for how long until your Socialist dream turns to Anarchy? What a moron.

Lilyrose

Vico17:

Your county of Kern is the largest drain on capitalist. Take take take.

Today's Republicans don't really understand economics. It's sad that what was a decent political party was flooded with takers.

Comment deleted.
Independent Voter

Good comments here by thoughtful, truthful folks. Lamonster's is my favorite of the day. Thank you! I wonder, with the odd article like this one popping up, that the overall "agenda" becomes very clear for those with half a wit. Our Governor's comments and conduct have made him Captain Obvious.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.