Un­healthy air

Mayor or­ders re­view of S.F. pro­to­cols.

San Francisco Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Do­minic Fra­cassa Do­minic Fra­cassa is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: dfra­[email protected]­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @do­minicfra­cassa

The men­ac­ing, smoky haze that drifted south from the deadly Camp Fire in Butte County and lin­gered in the Bay Area for nearly two weeks last month has prompted San Fran­cisco of­fi­cials to bol­ster the city’s abil­ity to re­spond to sus­tained air-qual­ity in­ci­dents, which are ex­pected to worsen with cli­mate change.

On Fri­day, Mayor Lon­don Breed handed down an ex­ec­u­tive or­der in­struct­ing city agen­cies, in­clud­ing the de­part­ments of Emer­gency Man­age­ment and Pub­lic Health, to be­gin re­view­ing and re­vis­ing the city’s pro­to­cols for keep­ing res­i­dents safe dur­ing long stretches of un­healthy or dan­ger­ous air.

“Here in San Fran­cisco, we are used to earth­quakes. We know it’s not a mat­ter of if, but when,” Breed said Fri­day. But the cli­mate change has be­gun to shift the city’s fo­cus “on what we need to do to bet­ter pre­pare for things that we never had to pre­pare for in the past. These re­cent fires un­for­tu­nately im­pacted our air qual­ity in a way that we had never ex­pe­ri­enced.”

The haze that hung over the Bay Area was an un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tion, of­fi­cials said. Be­fore 2017, it was un­com­mon for the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency’s Air Qual­ity In­dex to rise above 50, a level that presents lit­tle to no health risks.

Dur­ing the Camp Fire, the in­dex was at least 150 — con­di­tions con­sid­ered un­healthy for sen­si­tive groups, such as peo­ple with res­pi­ra­tory con­di­tions — for 13 con­sec­u­tive days. In San Fran­cisco, the in­dex at times topped 250, a level de­scribed as “very un­healthy.” North­ern Cal­i­for­nia briefly earned the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing the worst air qual­ity in the world.

Con­sid­er­ing the deadly and record-break­ing heat wave that hit in the Bay Area last year and the air event from last month, “We’re deal­ing with un­prece­dented sit­u­a­tions due to cli­mate change,” said Mary Ellen Car­roll, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Depart­ment of Emer­gency Man­age­ment.

The mayor’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der, she said, “is a mat­ter of bring­ing us to­gether as a city to re­vise what we al­ready have planned to an­tic­i­pate these new, un­prece­dented in­ci­dents.”

By the first quar­ter of 2019, Breed wants a plan with rec­om­men­da­tions and guide­lines tied to air-qual­ity thresh­olds that in­cludes ad­vice for the pub­lic on when they should use pro­tec­tive masks and in­struc­tions on how the city should dis­trib­ute them. The plan will also in­clude pro­to­cols for reach­ing out to vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions like the home­less and the el­derly.

The ex­ec­u­tive or­der also man­dates the cre­ation of a task force to es­tab­lish “cri­te­ria, lo­ca­tions and mea­sures of ef­fec­tive­ness for pub­lic respite fa­cil­i­ties dur­ing poor air qual­ity and other weather-re­lated events.” Breed’s di­rec­tive also re­quires Car­roll and her staff to cre­ate a roster of city em­ploy­ees who can more rapidly de­ploy aid and ex­per­tise to dis­as­ter ar­eas.

De­spite the con­cerns around air qual­ity in San Fran­cisco, there was no uptick in 911 calls.

“We had no in­ci­dents what­so­ever” tied to the air qual­ity last month, Car­roll said, “and that is due to peo­ple heed­ing the ad­vice that they clearly heard” to take pre­cau­tions and, most im­por­tantly, to stay in­doors.

But Car­roll added that she does see room for im­prove­ment in the way the city dis­sem­i­nates in­for­ma­tion about when peo­ple should wear air-fil­ter­ing masks, which were nearly ubiq­ui­tous dur­ing the worst days of the air event last month.

“There is some work to do on the mask rec­om­men­da­tions. That was one area where we re­ceived some crit­i­cism — ‘Why isn’t the city hand­ing out a mask to ev­ery per­son here?’ ” Car­roll said. “That’s a hard one, be­cause you don’t want to do some­thing ir­re­spon­si­bly.”

City health of­fi­cials cau­tioned that while it seems sen­si­ble to use a mask when the air qual­ity is poor, wear­ing the masks can cause ex­ces­sive strain on peo­ple who have un­der­ly­ing heart or lung dis­or­ders.

“To wear a res­pi­ra­tor, you have to be healthy, be­cause it takes a lot of ef­fort to wear them,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, the city’s health of­fi­cer.

“Masks are not the so­lu­tion for ev­ery­one,” Car­roll said.

Lea Suzuki / The Chron­i­cle

Jack Fatheree (left) of Texas, Nia Blas of San Fran­cisco, and Derek Chan of Iowa wear masks as they take in a hazy view of San Fran­cisco from Twin Peaks on Nov. 16.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.