Winter providing no pollution relief 

Brown skies, summer heat and the loud hum of air conditioners usually herald the start of Spare the Air season, but this winter, air pollution is proving to be a year-round issue.

With strict new Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and heightened hazardous conditions during the winter, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District is again alerting residents about possible dangers in the atmosphere.

The Spare the Air advisory issued Wednesday night was the 15th of the winter. Spokesman Aaron Richardson said five to 10 more are anticipated.

In the winter, air quality advisories are based on the amount of "particulate matter," measured in micrograms per cubic meter. Those particles are commonly found in car exhaust and wood smoke. This last December, the EPA lowered the allowed percentage of particulate matter in the air from 65 micrograms per cubic meter over 24 hours to 35 micrograms. Because of that, more winter days are now above the threshold for a Spare the Air advisory.

"Particle pollution is a major source of pollution in the Bay Area and wood smoke is a major source of particle pollution," said Andy Katz, director of air quality advocacy for Breathe California.

Especially during winter nights, when ground temperature falls, hazardous conditions are magnified as a result of pollutants being trapped close to the ground by natural warm air.

Richardson said that some of the particles are so small — about 1/28th the width of human hair — that they can be absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs, damaging cell walls.Burning natural gas in stoves and fireplaces, he added, can reduce the pollutions by up to 90 percent.

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