Published February 23, 2017
Volume 1, Number 2

You Can Breathe Easier in Hacienda

By Tina Hansen
Pulse Writer

Glancing at weather reports this winter should include more than checking what the temperatures will be or if you will need a raincoat, it also includes checking the air quality reports.

There are many contributing factors that can cause unhealthy air, from residential heating sources to vehicle emissions to commercial pollutants, as well as the region’s wildfires. In the wintertime, air quality is affected by particulate matter (PM), which occurs when the weather gets cold enough that exhaust from vehicles, homes, and businesses becomes visible in the air. These particles of soot and metals give smog its murky color.

Regionally, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (Air District) is charged with protecting the air we breathe and promoting programs that help improve regional air quality. The Air District measures and analyzes air quality, develops air quality rules, and ensures that businesses comply with air pollution laws and regulations. The Air District also provides grants to encourage practices that help promote clean air and works with communities to improve air quality.

The Air District divides the counties into five reporting zones for the air quality forecast; Hacienda is in the Eastern Zone. People interested in receiving Spare the Air notices, the regional system that provides advisories on days where individuals can help improve air quality through their actions, can sign up to receive them by visiting: www.sparetheair.org/stay-informed/subscribe-and-share/air-alerts.
It is the carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides from vehicle emissions that are not only the leading causes of poor air quality but a serious health concern as well because exhaust from cars and trucks are at the ground level where we breathe. In the winter when cold temperatures and stagnant air occur together it can result in a build-up of the harmful particulate matters that can cause respiratory illnesses to worsen.

The next biggest contributing factor that increases poor air quality and adversely affects breathing in the winter are outputs from fireplaces and wood stoves, which can contain more than 100 different chemical compounds. Wood smoke pollutants include fine particulates that can exacerbate allergies, asthma, and this can worsen with poor air dispersion.

The smoke and particles from wood burning stoves and fireplaces can be a significant source of air pollution and can be reduced by choosing low-emission EPA-certified stoves, operating them properly, and using seasoned firewood.

According to the Air District, the Bay Area accounts for 1.4 million woodstoves and fireplaces, and the wood smoke pollution contributes to about one-third of the overall PM pollution. Residents and business owners during the Winter Spare the Air season, which started Nov. 1 and ends in February, should check to see whether an alert has been issued before burning wood.

The Air District recently began an incentive program called Wood Smoke Reduction Incentive Program to address health hazards, improve local air quality and reduce wintertime particulate matter pollution from wood burning heat sources by helping Bay Area homeowners and landlords replace their wood-burning heating devices with cleaner options. Details are available at: www.baaqmd.gov/grant-funding/residents/wood-smoke-rebate.

Air District executive officer Jack Brodbent said in a statement that winter days with milder temperatures trap unhealthy particulate matter in the air, with wood burning contributing significantly to the problem.

Another cause of poor air quality is emissions of methane. The primary man-made sources of methane are fossil fuels like natural gas and petroleum, livestock, landfills, and wastewater. A recent report from researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found “emissions of methane, a potent climate-warming gas, may be roughly twice as high as officially estimated for the San Francisco Bay Area.”

Wildfires are another source of air pollution that can have a significant impact on local air quality and health. Emissions from forest fires can travel great distances, affecting air quality and human health far from where the fires originates. Wildfires burning within 50-100 miles of Hacienda can cause air quality to be significantly worse than normal and, according to the US Forest Service, the constant occurrence of wildfires can cause long term effects on climate patterns.

During northern California’s wildfire season, the Air District monitors general air quality in the Bay Area and will issue a health advisory if wildfire smoke appears to be causing elevated levels of particulate pollution in the region.

In Hacienda, the effort to reduce vehicle emissions is a priority. With a BART station integrated within the development, as well as providing a nationally recognized commuting program, Hacienda strives to make life not only better but healthier. These amenities also provide key business support as they help employers comply with one of the regional approaches to improving Air Quality: the Bay Area Commuter Benefits Program. Under this state law, employers with 50 or more full-time employees are required to register and offer commuter options to their employees to comply with the program which began in 2014.

By having employers help incentivize their employees to use transit and commute modes other than driving alone, air quality objectives are aided. The good news for Hacienda employers is that, simply by making the park's comprehensive suite of services available to their employees, they automatically comply with the requirements of the new law at their Hacienda location.

One of the main components of Hacienda's commute benefits program provided to residents and employees is an ECO Pass that provides free access to Wheels buses seven days a week, 365 days a year. Wheels buses connect the Tri-Valley area to locations throughout Hacienda by providing a free ride to and from work, or to and from home for residents, on all Wheels lines. These and the other components are available to everyone at Hacienda and are described in the Commute section of Hacienda's Special Offers Program. Combined, they allow everyone to breathe a little easier -- in more ways than one.