The sheer number of fires raging simultaneously across California are blanketing the skies and leading to unhealthy air quality right now. On Monday the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District held a press briefing to provide an update on the status of the air quality in the valley for that exact reason. 23ABC’s Kristin Vartan joins has details on how Bakersfield fares compared to the rest of the region.
So far, California fires have burned 3.2 million acres of land. Valley Air said the previous record high was 2 million at the end of a calendar year. So, the smoke could continue to get worse.
While the air quality might be slightly better in Bakersfield than the rest of the region, Valley Air said the city is not quite out of the woods yet and residents should be taking precautions before the quality is at its worst.
“I don’t think we’ve had a widespread event with this many high concentrations for this prolonged of a period. I think we are breaking some records here for air quality in a bad way throughout the entire region,” said Jon Klassen the director of air quality science and planning at the Valley Air District.
According to Valley Air District, Bakersfield is at Level 4 for air quality, or unhealthy, while the rest of the valley sits at Level 5 very unhealthy air quality. But Klassen said that could all change depending on the direction of the wind.
“With the pushing to the Midwest and admissions pushing that way, I would suspect that the northern part of Bakersfield would have worse air quality than the southern part."
Valley Air’s number one recommendation from keeping the air you breathe as healthy as possible: stay indoors.
“We understand that folks are sick and tired of being inside for the last six months due to COVID, but right now it’s really important that you continue to be inside,” said Valley Air District CCO Jaime Holt.
While at home, valley air urges residents to change air conditioning filters every 3-4 weeks instead of every 2-3 months. Air purifiers and homemade air filters are also recommended. Valley Air said all you need is a box fan and you can tape a MERV 8 or higher filter to the back and let it run in your home. This is especially crucial for children and the elderly, who belong to the “sensitive groups category.”
“A child actually brings in more air than per their body weight, or their body mass than a healthy adult does, and an older individual is more likely to have an underlying health issue, which will then be aggravated by air pollution,” said Holt.
For employees who work primarily outdoors, like farmers, Valley Air recommends wearing an N95 mask, working in the mid-to-late afternoon when air quality is slightly better and pushing back activities, if possible. Cal OSHA has regulations for employee safety during bad air quality as well as a hotline to call if concerned.
All residents can monitor air quality through the Valley Air app or the government's Air Now website.
if you have to go outdoors for any reason, Valley Air said cloth masks won’t keep fine particulate matter out of your system. N95’s can protect you from getting that matter into your lungs and eventually, your bloodstream. Although they said it’s better to stay indoors since N95’s should mainly go to essential workers.