WORLD’S WORST AIR QUALITY, Welcome to California!
Air quality network Purple Air said on Thursday the air is now worse than smoggy cities in India and China.
Schools have cancelled classes, flights have been delayed, and internet searches for smoke masks are soaring.
At least 63 people have died in the Camp Fire – the state’s deadliest and most destructive blaze.
The number of missing people has jumped to more than 600, local authorities said, doubling the size of the list in a day.
Wildfire smoke wafting over from the still-growing Camp Fire — by far the deadliest wildfire in state history — had inundated many heavily-populated California cities and towns with small bits of pollution thinner than the width of a human hair, called Particulate Matter 2.5, or PM 2.5.
Berkeley Earth, a scientific climate organization, keeps tabs on air pollution around the globe. As of Nov. 17 at 9:30 a.m. ET, Oakland topped the global list with particle concentrations of 167 μg/m3 (meaning micrograms per cubic meter) — which are levels deemed “Very Unhealthy” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Coming in a distant second is Kanpur, India with particulate levels of 132.
For reference, air pollution experts consider India to have the worst air pollution on the planet. Last week, air pollution levels in India’s capital city of New Delhi were literally off the charts.
The Northern California cities of San Francisco and Oakland also placed in the top five, as of Saturday morning. Friday, the air pollution was no better, with the five top spots all taken by heavily-populated California cities: Stockton, Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.
San Francisco’s transit agency has taken its cable cars off the streets, several schools have canceled classes, and the National Park service suspended tours to Alcatraz Island.
Bay Area Students Affected
Public schools in San Francisco and Alameda County were closed Friday, along with UC Davis and UC Merced. UC Berkeley also canceled Friday’s classes, but some students criticized the university’s decision to stay open Thursday as smoke descended on the campus.
The school’s student association wrote a letter to their chancellor denouncing the “administration’s insufficient response to these public health risks” and urging administrators to allocate emergency funds for masks and mobile air filtration units.
“Campus buildings are not equipped to filter out the pollutants making the air indoors just as harmful as it is outside,” the group wrote. Some students, even those without pre-existing conditions, said they felt sick.
“I had a bloody throat, bloody nose, a cough, dry and watering eyes, and my throat is still very sore and dry,” freshman Sabrina Thorn said. “I almost passed out trying to go to class yesterday. My professor told me to go home.”
Increasing amounts of unhealthy to hazardous air pollution in the U.S. are one of the most well-understood and predicted consequences of climate change, as warmer climes produce larger wildfires.
It’s also well understood that particulate air pollution doesn’t just make it difficult to breathe in the short term, but it’s linked to serious heart disease. A recent 10-year-long Environmental Protection Agency study observed some 6,000 people and found exposure to this particulate matter (PM 2.5) accelerated the build-up of plaque inside the walls of blood vessels, which leads to heart attacks, strokes, and even death.
California’s sustained air quality woes have been further aided by a common weather phenomenon known as an inversion layer, wherein air pollution gets trapped under a layer of warm air, trapping the cooler air below.
The California Fire Department says it has now contained about 45% of the Camp Fire blaze.
Officials say they do not expect to fully contain the blaze – which has razed 145,000 acres (56,600 ha) – until the end of the month.
They are also battling several other fires, including the Morgan Fire in Contra Costa County, near San Francisco, the Woolsey Fire in Ventura County near Los Angeles and the smaller Hill Fire, also in Ventura County.
The worst-hit area is the town of Paradise, with officials saying it will need a “total rebuild” job that will take several years.
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