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Release Date: 10/23/2001
Contact Information: Lisa Fasano, U.S. EPA, 415-744-1587

     Valley Fails To Meet Federal Air Quality Standards

SAN FRANCISCO   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today downgraded the air quality rating of the San Joaquin Valley from serious to severe for failing to meet the federal air quality standard for ozone air pollution.
      The severe classification will initiate new permitting and pollution control requirements, and will require the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District to submit a new air quality plan by May 31, that demonstrates attainment of the federal ozone standard by the end of 2005.

     In addition to the reclassification, the EPA is finalizing its finding that the San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District failed to implement six commitments in its current federally approved attainment plan.  The EPA is also finalizing an action that removes eastern Kern County from the San Joaquin Valley ozone nonattainment area; the newly designated East Kern County ozone nonattainment area will retain a serious ozone classification.

      "Ozone in the Valley is a more persistent problem than we imagined and it's time for us to all work together to fix it," said Jack Broadbent, Director of the Region's Air Division.  "Today's action will speed progress toward cleaner, more breathable air for the Valley's residents."  

     The EPA air quality data from 1997 through 1999 indicate the San Joaquin Valley experienced 80 days of unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution.  The reclassification does not signify, however, that ozone air quality is worsening in the San Joaquin Valley.  In fact, ozone levels have decreased slightly over the past 10 years and particulate levels have been improving despite the continuing rapid growth in the Valley.

     Exposure to ozone, even at relatively low levels, can reduce lung function, and cause chest pain and coughing.  Repeated exposure can make people   especially children, the elderly and those with respiratory diseases such as asthma   more susceptible to respiratory diseases.  Ozone is formed through the photochemical reaction of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, which can come from cars, trucks and buses, farm equipment, power plants, refineries, solvents, and consumer products.

     The San Joaquin Valley ozone non-attainment area includes eight counties: San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and western Kern.  Air pollution from the area contributes to air quality problems in several downwind areas, including the north and central coast, the Mojave Desert, and the mountain counties.