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San Diego Air Quality: Now You Can Breath Easy

February 7, 2017

San Diego Is Getting Focused On Better Air

San Diegans, rejoice and take a deep breath of fresh air. Well, fresh-er air.

Everyone knows the residents and visitors of San Diego love their daily dose of sunshine — but how often do they think about their air? Most of us assume that if we can’t see any signs of pollution, we must be breathing clean and safe air. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. In fact, reports in 2014 discovered that air pollution was dangerously high for almost 50% of the United States.

While San Diego has some of the best amenities nature has to offer — golden rays of sun shining nearly every day, saltwater in waves perfect for surfing, and pleasantly warm temperatures that most of the country simply can’t compete with — the city hasn’t always held the best record when it comes to the quality of its air.

Until now, that is. Thanks to policies and measures taken by the city, San Diego has been successfully and gradually improving its air quality in recent years. The city has buckled down, placing a higher focus on cleaning up the local air, and it shows. Year by year, residents can breathe safer and easier.

Although San Diego’s air quality may not be perfect (yet), the city should be proud to call itself one of the most improved in the United States.

San Diego and the “State of the Air Report”

Since 1999, the American Lung Association (ALA) has been analyzing data collected from official air monitoring systems to complete an annual study known as the “State of Air Report.”

The report assigns a score to cities and states across the United States, offering an insight into things like the presence of unhealthy particles, and the number of dangerous ozone days a city sees in a year (days on which a city’s ozone level exceeds the federal standard). The idea behind the State Air Report is to give government officials the information they need to pinpoint problems in air quality, and take steps to make the atmosphere healthier and cleaner for residents.

In this year’s State of the Air Report, the city of San Diego brought home a report card worthy of hanging on the fridge.

For the first time in 17 years, the air quality in San Diego’s metropolitan area was not ranked within the 25 most polluted regions for 2016 — underlining the significant improvements the city has made to fight back against pollution. Though the city did receive an “F” grade in ozone days (room for improvement, no doubt), San Diego still saw an overall fall of 71% in unhealthy days since 2000, alongside an 86% drop in unhealthy particle days.

The History of San Diego’s Air

Looking at the less-than-stellar history of San Diego’s air quality highlights how significant this year’s improvements truly are.

The Air Pollution Control District (APCD) has been monitoring pollutant concentrations since the 1950s. Reports have long shown San Diego lagging behind many other cities and states in regards to air quality, with pollution levels reaching a peak in 1981. During that year, San Diego experienced 179 dangerous ozone days. Today, the city’s reported no less than 10 ozone days. The number is far from perfect, but these changes represent a fantastic improvement for the city.

The EPA will continue to evaluate air quality in San Diego every five years, making improvements based on its findings. Even now, a proposal exists to adjust ozone standards for businesses from 75 ppb (parts per billion) to between 65 and 70 ppb — a measure that will force organizations to pay more attention to the number of pollutants they release into the air on a daily basis.

How Is San Diego Cleaning Up Pollution?

Although San Diego has continued to welcome new vehicles, factories, and people over the decades — all of which contribute to air pollution — the city’s air quality has steadily improved.

The regulations in place constantly require innovation and investment in the control of air pollution, placing limits on everything from power plants and factories, to personal vehicles and construction equipment.

The city’s efforts to improve air quality over the years include:

Making public transit available. San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan attempts to make transit more accessible, to reduce the need for numerous vehicles on the road.

Encouraging biking and walking. As a further development designed to reduce the number of cars on the road, San Diego has taken measures to offer safer streets for bicycling and walking purposes. Pedestrian safety fixes, roundabouts, traffic circles, and “traffic calming” are all contributing to this initiative.

Decreasing vehicle emissions. Since the majority of San Diego’s air pollution is attributed to vehicles, emissions are curbed with grants offered by the government. These grants help individuals upgrade their pollution-heavy vehicles to cleaner technology — $5.4 million was awarded in 2015.

Implementing Senate Bill 350. The American Lung Association has backed various measures for improved air quality, including Senate Bill 350, which sets new goals for increasing renewable power.

Introducing plug-in ships. Last year, the Port of San Diego offered a shore power system that permits ships to “plug in” for energy, rather than running diesel generators on board.

Today, the presence of “clean air” laws represents one of the most successful interventions in environmental history — saving billions of dollars in expenses for health care, missed work days, and even crop losses. Each clean air policy, whether it’s promoting environmentally friendly vehicles or reducing power usage, contributes to San Diego’s fight for cleaner air. The city has a long way to go, but seeing how far it’s come already and the recent measures taken to step up the game, we can’t help but feel optimistic that the sunny city can someday beat pollution for good.


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About The Author

Bob Jenson

For over 45 years, Bob Jenson has been providing quality heating and air services to the San Diego community.


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