Drive anywhere in the Bay Area at certain times during the year and you’re bound to see it. It can manifest itself in a beautiful orange sundown, other times it looks like brown clouds obscuring your view. The term “smog”, a portmanteau of smoke and fog, was first coined in 1905 by Harold Antoine des Voeux as away to describe the brown air in London. Smog, resulting from the emission of sulfur dioxide from the burning of coal and heavy oil in power plants, industrial plants, etc. is called industrial smog.
In the 1950s a new type of smog, known as photochemical smog, was first described, caused by a chemical reaction between oxygen, hydrocarbons, and other particular matter in the atmosphere. Under the right conditions, these particles oxidize, forming ozone and nitrous oxide. This is the type of smog associated with cities like Los Angeles, caused by sunny days, stagnant winds and numerous vehicle emissions.
Smog is not a recent phenomenon. Smog in London predates Shakespeare by four centuries. In 1306, concerns over air pollution were sufficient for Edward I to (briefly) ban coal fires in London. In the summer of 1943 Los Angeles had its first recognized episode of smog occur. June 10, 1947, California Governor Earl Warren signs into law the Air Pollution Control Act, authorizing the creation of an Air Pollution Control District in every county of the state. Los Angeles County opened the first air pollution control office in early 1947 and Santa Clara County followed soon after.
It soon became apparent that smog could not be constrained by political boundaries and that single county approach was not the answer for regional problems. In 1955, the state took this concept of regionalism in the battle of air pollution to the next step and created the Bay Area Air Pollution Control Law, establishing the Bay Area Air Pollution Control District as the first regional air pollution control agency in the nation. It was later renamed the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD).
At first, the Air District included Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. (Three other counties — Napa, Solana, and Sonoma; were included in the legislation as “inactive” members. Napa and the southern portions of Solano and Sonoma counties joined the Air District in 1971.)
The Air District is governed by a 22-member Board of Directors composed of locally elected officials from each of the nine Bay Area counties. The number of board members from each county is proportionate to its population.
The Board oversees policies and adopts regulations for the control of air pollution within the district. The Board also appoints the Air District’s Executive Officer/Air Pollution Control Officer, who implements Board policies and gives direction to staff, as well as the District Counsel, who manages the legal affairs of the agency.
One program you may be familiar with is “Spare the Air” days during the summer and now winter. During the summer months, the Air District issues Spare the Air advisories on days when ozone pollution is forecast to be high. On these Spare the Air days, the Air District urges residents to cut back on any activities that cause pollution. People sensitive to pollution, such as children and the elderly, are cautioned to limit outdoor exposure.
Spare the Air advisories and daily air quality forecasts are posted on the http://www.sparetheair.org/website, recorded on the 1 (800) HELP AIR telephone line, announced in local newspapers, and broadcast on local TV and radio stations. Bay Area residents can also sign up on the website to be notified by automatic e-mail AirAlerts.
The Winter Spare the Air program runs from November through February, when particulate matter from woodstoves and fireplaces becomes a major health concern in the Bay Area. The Air District issues Winter Spare the Air Alerts on days when air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels. Under the Air District’s woodburning regulation, it is illegal for Bay Area residents to use any wood-burning devices, such as fireplaces, woodstoves, or pellet stoves, when these alerts are in effect.