Air pollution affects children and the elderly the most

Plumas County air quality routinely exceeds U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. This excessive pollution is related to widespread severe forest fires, wood burning during atmospheric inversion events and increased dust during droughts.

Effects of severe fires on air quality

According to Will Barrett, senior policy analyst for the American Lung Association of California, Plumas County air exceeded EPA small particle pollution standards during years with extensive fires in northern California and droughts over the past 15 years.

Forest fires put large amounts of small particles into the atmosphere. Widespread severe fires occurred in northern California in 2003, 2006-2008 and 2012-2015 causing spikes in small particle pollution in Plumas County.

No measurements are available for ozone pollution in Plumas County. However, ozone pollution also tends to increase during severe fires.

Effects of drought on air quality


Vegetation is reduced during droughts allowing wind to transport more small soil and rock particles into the atmosphere than during wet years.

Drier conditions occurred in Plumas County in 2003-2004, 2007 and 2014-2016, increasing the amount small particles in the atmosphere.

Large fires tend to occur during dry years. Dry conditions tend to contribute to severe fires. Droughts kill trees and dry out fuels making severe fires more likely.

Effects of burning wood, trash and inversions on air quality

Barrett said that burning firewood and trash, either in woodstoves or in the open, is among the largest sources of particle pollution in Plumas County.

Atmospheric conditions can occur that trap pollution particles near the earth’s surface where people live. These are called inversions because air closer to the ground is cooler than air higher up, thus the normal gradient of warmer to cooler is inverted.

Environmental Protection Agency data demonstrate that small particle pollution increases dramatically in Quincy and Portola during the winter months, when inversions are more common.

Winter pollution is greater in Portola than in Quincy. In response, Portola has an active woodstove change-out program, funded by the EPA, where residents within the Portola area can replace non-EPA certified wood stoves with new, efficient, cleaner burning EPA certified devices.


Effects of small particles on health

Air quality affects your family’s health and that of your neighbors. The impacts on health depend on the size of the particles that get into a person’s lungs.

The EPA advises that fine particles, with diameters less than 2.5 micrometers, do the most damage. This is because very small particles are able to get deep into people’s lungs where they are hard for the body to remove. Some may even get into the bloodstream.

These particles, about 3 percent the diameter of a human hair, are so small they can only be seen with an electron microscope.

Fine particles damage the heart, causing cardiac arrhythmias and heart attacks, and the lungs, causing asthma attacks and bronchitis.

Breathing in fine particles is especially harmful for children, older people, those with diabetes and those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions.


Larger particles, though a common form of pollution, are less damaging to people’s hearts and lungs. Larger particles can, however, irritate a person’s eyes, nose and throat.

Limitations on our knowledge of air quality

The EPA only has pollution measuring stations in Quincy and Portola. According to Barrett, a previous measuring station in Chester and a second measuring station in Portola are no longer active.

This means that air quality can vary from place to place in Plumas County, but the AQMD has no way of knowing. This is particularly true in areas that are more or less affected by atmospheric inversions.

AQMD takes no measurements for other pollutants in Plumas County, such as ozone, that also have health effects.

American Lung Association of California estimates of those people most severely impacted by air pollution in Plumas County.

High Risk Group  Number %

Adults 65 & Over: 4,729  27%


Children:             3,149  17%

Diabetes:             2.064  11%

Heart Problems:   1,394    8%

Asthma:               1,431    8%

Lung Problems:      984    4%

American Lung Association recommends that people do the following in order to reduce air pollution locally.

– Drive less: combine trips, walk, bike, carpool and use buses or other alternatives to driving.

Support community plans that provide ways to get around that don’t require a car — such as sidewalks and bike trails.

– Don’t burn wood or trash except under the right atmospheric conditions.

Use a lower emission woodstove and limit your use of fireplaces.

– Avoid using outdoor hydronic heaters, also called outdoor wood boilers, which are frequently more polluting than woodstoves.

– Use less electricity.

– Make sure that local school systems uses clean school buses and that buses don’t idle unnecessarily.


5 thoughts on “Air pollution affects children and the elderly the most

  • The EPA and American Lung Association are self perpetuating entities using the false idea of global warming to shut down all forms of carbon emissions. Of course, the EPA woodstove program is a progressive one. First replace stoves with taxpayer funded grant money. Then implement color code burn days: Green- OK to burn. Yellow- shouldn’t burn. Red- no burn. And eventually make all woodstoves and debris burning illegal. Wood processing jobs will be gone. As well as individual energy independence. But alas! The same wood processors will be given different work. Making “safe” spaces around our homes, whether we like it or not, with more taxpayer and grant money. But it’ll be “safer” for everyone, especially the “children”. Just not so “safe” for our local or national economic independence.

    • Wood smoke is toxic and no one should be exposed to a level above zero. So all those measures you call progressive are actually way too conservative. We need bans and we need them now.

  • Newer wood stoves are promoted by the hearth industry because they are good for business, but they don’t do much to clean the air. Multiple studies have shown they are still far too polluting — much more so than their certification levels suggest. Telling people “Don’t burn wood or trash except under the right atmospheric conditions” is terrible advice! It is never healthy to burn wood or trash.

  • Modern, efficient ductless electric heat pumps have superseded wood stoves and natural gas as the most cost-effective heating. They can deliver 5 or 6 times as much heat to the home as they use in electric power, are affordable (as cheap as buying a wood stove) and have lower running costs than buying firewood. In addition they cause a lot less global warming, and don’t damage our health.

    Cycling or walking instead of driving is a great way to keep fit, but getting rid of a woodstove, even a modern EPA-certified one will do more to reduce health-hazardous fine particle pollution than taking 2,000 gasoline cars off the road. Read the facts for yourself at: woodsmoke .3sc .net/woodheater-car-comparison#USEPA (remove spaces)

  • Its always air pollution. Doesn’t matter when you burn.

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