Buildup of sooty haze poses public health threat in California

Jan. 20, 2014 at 12:01 AM
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LOS ANGELES, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- After the driest year on record in 2013, California is facing its driest January ever, and the dryness mixed with pollution is unhealthy, officials say.

A stuck high-pressure zone off the West Coast of the United States is creating dry conditions across California and the Southwest, and the stagnancy is trapping fine particles close to the ground, leaving a buildup of sooty haze that poses a public health threat, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

California officials issued an unprecedented number of no-burn alerts banning wood fires in homes, but officials at clinics report treating more patients than usual who have trouble breathing, tightness in their chest, itchy eyes and runny noses.

"It's not just an inconvenience, it's a significant health issue," Dr. Sunil Saini, an allergist told the Times. "Typically in California in the winter there is a drop-off in patients with respiratory problems beginning in December, but this year there hasn't been a decrease," Saini told the newspaper.

The air has been so unhealthful at times in the San Joaquin Valley, government officials issued dozens of Level 5 advisories -- the highest on their five-point scale -- and urged people to stay indoors.

The dry conditions have raised the risk of fire, prompting air quality advisories. Fine particles can lodge deep in the lungs and can aggravate respiratory problems. Long-term exposure is tied to a host of illnesses, including heart disease, asthma and cancer, health officials said.

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