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Robin Clough: SCV air quality will take your breath away

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: March 18, 2009 7:20 p.m.
Updated: March 19, 2009 4:30 a.m.
Santa Clarita is a valley of natural beauty, endless trails and pristine parks. I see Santa Claritans out everywhere: biking, hiking, running, playing, reveling in our good fortune to live in such an ideal climate surrounded by stunning mountains and sacred trees.

We have the Marathon, Amgen, the AT&T Champions Classic and our amazing Saugus High School girls state champion cross-country team. We are a city of families who know the importance of sports in our children's development, and who love to trek with child and picnic basket in hand to the Concerts in the Park against the backdrop of a richly hued summer sunset.

But there is a hazy threat looming over Santa Clarita, one which adversely affects the health of our babies, students, grandparents and ourselves. Santa Clarita has some of the dirtiest, most dangerous air in the nation. When we step out our front door, the impact of the air we breathe on our lungs is inescapable. The risk to Santa Claritans is undeniable.

To remedy this problem, there are some things we can do, and some things we cannot do. Factors outside our city and the major freeways running through it are partial determinants of our air quality. When it comes to smog, being in a valley means "what comes to Santa Clarita stays in Santa Clarita." Yet there are steps that must be taken to guard our health and bring air quality to safe levels.

One such step is making sure that air monitors are placed in enough locations to give us the data we need to make healthy decisions about our exercise choices.

The Air Quality Management District (AQMD) has only one air monitor in Santa Clarita, and therefore cannot accurately measure smog severity of the entire valley. By acquiring more monitors and placing them strategically, an "SCV Air Alert" could then warn residents of specific days, times and locations ("hot spots") that are dangerous.

Exhaust fumes are one of the primary culprits of air pollution, and some simple steps can also be taken to lessen these effects. For example, one idea might be the banning of gas-driven air blowers.

The city of Santa Clarita, in its effort to be healthy, continues to plant trees and is fueling our buses with clean natural gas. Using public transportation instead of cars when possible and supporting transportation-oriented development would help ease our pollution problem.

Air quality management is a complex problem for our city officials, posing challenges and sometimes choices between health and economics. Often the choice is clear, as in the case of the Cemex mine proposal that would fill our valley with additional dust (particulate matter) and diesel fumes from all the truck trips.

More often, though, our City Council needs and wants to hear the ideas and priorities of the community. One of our priorities must be to establish goals for pollution reduction. Our city and county are in the process of determining a new general plan, "One Valley, One Vision." Our environmental health must be central to this plan.

I urge everyone to join me in attending the many study sessions on this new general plan update and address any potential increases in air pollution that will occur with an increase in population, traffic and construction. Let's make sure that green buildings are mandated for all future development.

It is important that residents make the effort to research and become educated about the details and repercussions of this new plan. Air quality solutions must be in the general plan's preliminary steps and not an afterthought. Then we can all breathe more easily.

Robin Clough is a resident of Santa Clarita. Her column reflects her own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. "Environmentally Speaking" appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentally minded writers.


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