What are Spare the Air days?
Air quality in the Bay Area can be unhealthy at times throughout the year.
During the summer months, ozone pollution can become a health problem in the Bay Area. The summertime Spare the Air program notifies residents when air quality is forecast to be unhealthy and urges residents to drive less and reduce their emissions of ozone-forming pollutants.
A Winter Spare the Air Alert means that it is illegal for Bay Area residents to burn wood or other solid fuels in fireplaces, wood stoves and inserts, pellet stoves, outdoor fire-pits, or other wood-burning devices for the full 24 hours on the day the alert is issued for.
Winter air pollution is mainly caused by particulates or soot pollution from wood smoke. Smoke from wood-burning fires is linked to illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis and lung disease, and is especially harmful for children and the elderly. This wood-burning ban will be in effect for Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, southern Sonoma and southwestern Solano Counties.
During other times of the year, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, industrial emissions and household chemicals contain volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides that combine with oxygen in the presence of heat and sunlight to form ground-level ozone. Breathing ozone can cause throat irritation, congestion and chest pain. It can trigger asthma, inflame the lining of the lungs and worsen bronchitis and emphysema.
Long-term exposure to ozone can reduce lung function. High levels of ozone pollution are particularly harmful for young children, seniors and those with respiratory and heart conditions. Vigorous outdoor exercise should be undertaken only in the early morning hours when ozone concentrations are lower. The Air District issues Spare the Air Alerts whenever air quality is forecast to reach unhealthy concentrations.
A list of simple things the public can do to make clean air choices every day:
Bike to work or around town
Take public transit
Work at home or telecommute
Carpool and link your errands to reduce driving
Avoid using gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers
Reduce household energy use
Don't use lighter fluid on the barbecue
Avoid using aerosol spray cleaners, paints and hairspray
On Spare the Air days or nights, there is no free transit and there is a wood burning ban in place.
The Spare the Air smog season runs from May through October. The Winter Spare the Air season runs from November 1 until February of next year.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has higher fines this year for people who burn wood during Spare the Air alerts. First-time violators will receive a $100 fine or have the option of reading about and then being tested on the health hazards of wood smoke. Second-time offenders will now receive a $500 ticket, up from $400 last year.