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Letter to the Editor: About air quality

Editor’s note: The Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District sends reports to Plumas News on a monthly basis and a reporter in Eastern Plumas prepares them for publication — for years that was in the Portola Reporter printed newspaper, and recently for Plumas News. The following letter addresses such an article. 
I take issue with the article written for the Plumas News Friday April, 20.  The headline “Air quality remains steady in Eastern Plumas” I believe is very misleading.  The statement in the first paragraph was especially confounding.  “There were three days above the NAAQS standard at the beginning of the month (March) when it was quite cold. There were no days of exceeding the standard in 2019 and 2020,” explained NSAQMD Air Pollution Control Specialist Julie Ruiz.
No days exceeding the national standard in 2019 and 2020?  Most everyone living in Plumas County from August 19 to September 25, 2020, remembers the air quality during the North Complex Fire.  From Chester to Portola it was so horrendous we made the national news!  The EPA states the toll on human health by PM2.5 as “The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Fine particles, (Particulate Matter of 2.5 micrograms) PM2.5, pose the greatest health risk. These fine particles can get deep into lungs and some may even get into the bloodstream. Exposure to these particles can affect a person’s lungs and heart.Oct 11, 2019
Those days during the fire are the only days from 2019 to the present that Quincy’s air monitor scored worse (higher PM2.5) than the monitor for Eastern Plumas County.  That monitor is found in Portola. As stated in the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District ‘Portola Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) Attainment Plan’, “The Plumas County PM2.5 Nonattainment Area includes the City of Portola and the nearby communities of Iron Horse, Delleker, C-Road, Mohawk Vista, Plumas-Eureka, Blairsden-Graeagle, Gold Mountain, Whitehawk, Clio, Johnsville, and portions of Lake Davis.” 
The majority of this population is in the area of the City of Portola.

 

Particulate matters are often trapped by wintertime inversion conditions.  The poor quality air can then be blown by any breeze from the east, down the Middle Fork of the Feather River to the other communities in the non attainment zone.   
When researching air quality  I use the EPA national Airnow site, and AQ2MIS found on the Northern Sierra Air Quality site.  Plumas County is listed on both.  If you check the numbers on these sites they clearly show that the average National attainment level was exceeded 17 days in 2019,  56 days in 2020, and 28 days this year, 2021.  Yes, 3 of those days were in March.

  

The average for the entire county of Plumas may be low enough on many days to score nationally at a safe air quality level or if you average the mean number for three consecutive years.  However If you look more deeply you will see that the air in the eastern portion is where you almost always find the highest levels of particulate matter.  
More breath-taking (literally!) are the maximum numbers found on the California Air Resources Board site.  In 2019 there were 30 days with a rating of PM2.5 of 100 or higher in Portola; the highest 162.  In 2020 there were 55 days of 100 or higher; Quincy outscored Portola in Aug with a high of 818, Sept had 842, Nov had 729. However Eastern Plumas took back the unwanted lead in Dec with 255.
I encourage everyone to go to the air quality sites and search for themselves.  The mathematics tables in the Northern Sierra report are complicated for me to follow therefore I study the weekly and yearly data.  
Ms. Ruis responded to my call and explained she was noting only the first three days in March for 2019, 2020, and 2021 and looking at those three days alone they reflect the air quality is getting worse!  
I sincerely hope that some day in the future Ms. Ruiz and Plumas News can correctly say that each portion of Plumas County has attained an air quality attainment that is safe everyday for every resident.
Adrienne Stenson 
Quincy, CA

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