Valley's air pollution is at dangerous levels

Bad air is nothing new for the Central Valley, but right now it is extremely bad. The haze is made up of tiny particles, at levels five to six times higher than the level considered dangerous to health.

It looks like fog but the stuff in the air over the Central Valley is concentrated particulate air pollution, and it is making people sick.

Dr. Joseph Vempilly said, "We are seeing more patients who are complaining of worsening asthma conditions and those patients with COPD they are finding it difficult to breathe.

Doctor Joseph Vempilly, is a pulmonary and critical care doctor with UCSF and Community Regional Medical Center. He says the tiny particles, known as pm 2.5 because of their size 2.5 microns, 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

These particles can lodge in the lungs damaging breathing tubes, can get in the blood, and damage the heart and affect the brain, leading to coughing, headaches, confusion and making you more susceptible to other illness including the flu.

Dr. Vempilly said, "There's some new data coming in suggesting that if you are constantly exposed to this level of air pollution the chances of you catching influenza or other viral infections are much higher."

The map shows the pm 2.5 hotspots in red, covering the Fresno area and Los Angeles. Cassandra Melching of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District says the stagnant air is holding the pollution in place.

"We've been stuck under a very strong high-pressure system that acts like a lid and it's pushing all those emissions and particulates down at ground level and that's everything that we are breathing in," Melching explained.

Most of these particles are coming from car and truck exhaust but some blew in from the wildfires near Santa Barbara and never left.

The maximum safety level is 35 microns per cubic liter of air, we are currently at 160 or more -- a toxic level. Dr. Vempilly recommends anyone with breathing problems to stay inside, and if you go outside use a mask.

"People can use an N-95 mask which I carry sometimes. 95 percent of the time it can clear most of the particles you inhale."

The only hope for relief now is for wind and rain, a change in the weather.
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