Home > Clean Air > What is the Air District?

For anyone who lives in the Bay Area, you may have heard of the Air District, but do you understand who they are and what they do for our air quality?

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (Air District) does everything they can to keep the air clean and safe for Bay Area residents and to keep them informed about what they can do every day to help the region’s air be as clean as possible. The Air District is tasked with regulating stationary sources of air pollution in the nine counties that surround San Francisco Bay: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, southwestern Solano, and southern Sonoma counties. It is governed by a 24-member Board of Directors consisting of locally elected officials from all of the nine Bay Area counties.

The Air District is a regional government agency that regulates stationary sources. A stationary source is something that does not move, such as a refinery or a factory. However it can also be smaller, like a gas station or a dry cleaner. In this way, the Air District covers large scale and small scale facilities. The Air District regulates how much pollution these facilities are releasing or generating. They focus on how different companies are contributing to air pollution, and they make sure they are not going over their given limit.

Most of us are aware of the huge contribution cars have on poor air quality, but these negative contributions are considered mobile sources of pollution, which the Air District does not regulate. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the governing body that regulates mobile sources of pollution. They do so by having standards for specific pollutants being emitted. California Air Resource Board (CARB) also makes regulations for cars in terms of their emitted pollutants, specific to California.

The Air District has many goals, starting with reducing and eliminating health problems that have developed due to air pollution. After interviewing the Communications Director, Lisa Fasano, I got a better understanding of how the Air District accomplishes these goals. They would like to have air quality standards for all criteria pollutants, like carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide. They want to be the educational leader in regards to air quality information, and provide the public with the latest news on air quality and pollution topics. The Air District would love for Bay Area residents to regularly think about how they can spare the air every day.

Formed in 1955, the Air District immediately began with a first project in mind. At the time, people were burning their trash in wrecking yards and dumps, which was creating terrible pollution and drastically affecting lung health. Most people were unaware of the repercussions, but the Air District understood how unhealthy the trash burning was and will be to people’s long term health if it did not stop. They created the first Regulation, (Regulation #1) which proposed to prohibit all burning of trash. There were some initial challenges getting it passed, but it was eventually successful in 1957.

In today’s more progressive era, many people expect even more from the Air District. The public pushes them to do more, and sometimes they receive requests that are outside the scope of their authority. For instance, people want to see more regulations on vehicles, but the Air District has no control over that.

During the winter months, a big contributor to poor air quality is wood burning because people are using their fireplaces more often during the colder season. Sometimes, the Air District makes wood burning illegal for a period of time to let the air quality return to a healthier state. In the summer, a big problem is smog. Smog is created by pollutants that are warmed up by sunlight. Because the sun is out for a long time in the summer, this means more time for smog to be created.

After discussing some of the challenges that the Air District faces with Ms. Fasano, I learned that the biggest one right now is the growing population of San Francisco. There are over eight million people in the Bay Area, and that number continues to increase every year. This means more and more vehicles on the road, which turns into more gases being emitted in the air. We need to figure out a way to incentivize more people to take public transportation, walk, or bike more often. It is important to recognize the significant and worthwhile impact an individual can have on the environment, which is why the Air District has funded Breathe CA’s Oxygen for You (O24u) Environmental Education program for elementary schools students in recent years. Many people are still under the impression that one person does not make a difference to overall air quality, but Breathe CA is working together with the Air District to try to change that mindset!

The Air District has also experienced many incredible achievements of the last several decades. For instance, every year more is discovered in the scientific field about air quality, and we now have far more advanced methods of measuring air quality and pollution. This means the Air District has more knowledge than ever that they can share with the public, and use to make regulations for facilities and businesses.

Many projects that the Air District has been working on have tremendously impacted the health of the Bay Area community. For example, the Spare the Air Program is something that a lot of residents have heard of, even if they haven’t heard of the Air District. The Spare the Air Program was created in 1991 and aims to encourage people to think about their actions every day in terms of air quality and their contribution to air pollution. During the winter months, when there is a lot of particulate matter, or soot in the air, people are encouraged to not use their fireplaces for a few days, and sometimes residents are even advised to limit their time outdoors. Then, on those hot summer days when smog levels are high, people are encouraged to drive less to help reduce the ozone-forming pollutants that come from cars. Again, they may be told to limit their outdoor time if the air quality is dangerous.

The message that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District wants to send is that all of the pollutants that are released into the air contribute to our air quality, regardless of the source. It is not just the big things that matter; all forms of pollution should be considered in everyone’s daily life. Smoking a cigarette or lighting a fire in your fireplace are smaller contributors to bad air quality, but they are just as important to our health as thinking about as how a larger factory is contributing to air pollution.

For more information about the Air District visit their website, www.baaqmd.gov.

Contributed by Arrianna Towner, Breathe California O24u Program Intern.