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Dr. Gene Dorio: Low SAT scores? Hold your breath

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: September 16, 2009 8:56 p.m.
Updated: September 17, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Tiffany and Ryan didn’t do well on the SAT’s. Sure, teens have distractions like e-mail and texting, coping with surging hormone levels, distancing themselves from their uncool parents and siblings, honing social skills, and experimenting with newfound independence.

One lesser recognized, yet ubiquitous contributor to their low scores is the poor air quality of the Santa Clarita Valley.

Looking at the Air Quality Management District readings, this valley has some of the worst polluted air in the nation, and it is not getting better.

Some of the pollutants flow in from the infamous Los Angeles basin, then stagnates in this valley as it hits the northern mountains. But we are also situated between two freeways.

Most Santa Claritans cannot imagine getting out of their cars for public transportation or cycling to work. Adding nearby fires, we have a deadly polluted mix.

Does it affect Tiffany and Ryan? Of course it does, as well as the rest of the residents in Santa Clarita.

Our children and elder seniors experience reactive airway diseases of asthma and emphysema that puts some into the hospital. Like canaries in the mineshaft, these unfortunate individuals are the first to show the symptoms of our poor air quality and suffer immensely.

Subtle effects of pollutants like P2 and P10 particulates (small particles of dust in the air) and high ozone levels have been scientifically proven to have adverse long-term effects on the rest of us, too, not only in our lungs, but also our hearts, immune systems and brain function.

How can we fix this? We can’t tell Los Angeles to stop sending us their bad air. We can’t halt the flow of traffic up Interstate 5 or Highway 14.

No one can force us to drive hybrids and ride bikes, nor can we interfere with local commerce by shutting down manufacturing here.

On extremely unhealthy days, we can make it popular and acceptable to wear masks as they do in many Asian countries.

We can outlaw leaf blowers, and subsidize Metrolink and buses for our residents. Or, we may enhance tax breaks to businesses that encourage employee bike riding, carpooling and telecommuting from home.

A looming yet preventable threat that will, without a doubt, worsen our air quality lies with the city of Santa Clarita. As part of our tax base, developers pay the city to build homes and industrial centers.

Surrounding areas proliferate adding to tax revenues. Worrisome is that if one were to total all the already approved residential developments, the population in this valley would exceed 500,000 (it is approximately 350,000 now).

Therefore, if the City Council approves any more residential communities beyond what is on the books, it will directly and adversely affect our air quality.

There is a balance among the community, business and government. As citizens, we need to be involved at every level to maintain that balance.

Read The Signal, listen to KHTS radio, watch City Council and Planning Commission meetings on SCVTV. Don’t complain when you’re coughing and can’t take a deep breath after neglecting to gather facts or making your voice heard.

The reality is that air quality is a problem that needs to be addressed by all of us. Personal stagnation will only allow air stagnation to worsen.

Being involved and developing creative ideas may begin to whittle away at this threat. Then hopefully one day, we can all take a healthy deep breath and give a sigh of relief when we see Tiffany and Ryan live up to their expectations.

Interested? I hope you will join us in October to hear the American Lung Association speak on the link between air quality and land use. Stay tuned for the location and date.

Dr. Gene Dorio is a member of the Community Advocates for Healthcare SCV (CAHS). His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Environmentally Speaking” appears Thursdays in The Signal and rotates among local environmentally minded writers.


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