The Central Valley is seeing less air pollution amid the coronavirus outbreak

Posted at 6:09 AM, Apr 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-03 14:53:52-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — We’ve seen it in China and Los Angeles, unusually clear skies as people self-isolate inside. Officials say the science is simple. Less cars on the road equals less pollution in the air.

“If there was to be a silver lining in all of this, we are actually quite pleased that people are talking about air pollution and noticing the difference. It’s almost like a big social experiment," said Heather Heinks, a spokesperson for the San Joaquin Valley Air District.

The district oversees cities that see some of the worst air pollution in the country, including Bakersfield and Fresno. She says the district has talked for decades about getting people to change their behavior and recognize their personal contribution to pollution.

“Effectively this will demonstrate, in mass, a major reduction in pollution based on change in behavior," she said.

Heinks says one of the main ways they measure air quality is by monitoring for nitrogen oxides, or NOx. NOx is often prevalent in areas with a high density of traffic, and it’s a precursor to ozone creation.

“We can definitely see just on straight data of NOx coming off those monitors that there is definitely less pollution outside," Heinks said.

Preliminary data taken in the San Joaquin Valley is showing that there has been a decline in the amount of NOx in our air. Officials say our air usually tends to improve in March anyway, but the district says this improvement has been more abrupt.

“It’s a little early to tell and give credit to the stay-at-home order but if things continue as they are, we are going to see some excellent air quality for the immediate future," Heinks said.

Heinks said the air tends to get worse in the warmer months when NOx tends to get baked in the heat. It’ll be then that we’ll likely see a bigger difference in the air.