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California could see more unhealthy air days under new metric to measure air quality

Changes in air quality index means California could see more harmful air quality days
Changes in air quality index means California could see more harmful air quality days 03:08

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY – California could be seeing more unhealthy air quality days, not because pollution is getting worse, but because of a new metric to measure air quality by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA is hoping it can hold everyone to a higher standard. To bring emissions across the board down. It could also allow people who live in cities like Stockton to be more aware of the air quality if it does turn harmful.

The EPA has changed the air quality index. The old AQI showed if there were over 12 micrograms of particulate matter or small breathable particles in a cubic foot of air, it would start to be considered potentially unhealthy.

That measure has now been dropped to nine micrograms per cubic feet of air.

Now, a day that would've normally registered as a healthy day, is now considered moderate.

Sylvia Vanderspek is the Chief of the Air Quality Planning branch at the California Air Resources Board.

"What this has done is it says that protecting yourself at the sensitive level is just a little bit lower," she said.

Vanderspek welcomes these new changes and says it holds the nation to a higher standard.

"While we know we have some of the biggest changes in the nation, we will strive to meet those standards," she said.

However, according to data from the EPA, if these new standards were implemented from 2020 to 2022, half of California's 58 counties had an annual average of harmful air quality.

In San Joaquin County, the particulates in the air were at 12.3 on average.

In Stanislaus County, it was worse, at 14.3 on average.

This could mean that in the future, California could technically see more harmful air quality days.

"I think it's important because if you're one of those people who are impacted by those lower levels, you're now going to think twice before deciding whether to go outside or not," she said.

But Vanserspek says the data being gathered from 2020 to 2022 isn't fair to the state's actual air quality.

A big reason? Wildfires.

"So that data includes the data from those huge wildfires," she said.

She is awaiting data from 2023 to this year because the air quality has improved from those smokey days.

Health experts say breathing in large amounts of these tiny particles could have long-term effects on your life. 

In children, it can cause asthma and in adults, it could cause heart and lung diseases.

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