Air district explains ‘Spare the Air’ process

On a winter with record-breaking stretches of rainless days, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has declared a record-breaking number of Spare the Air alerts. And that in turn seems to have led to more than the usual number of complaints and criticisms.

“We hear them every day, all the time,” said Ralph Borrmann, the district’s public information officer, referring to criticisms made directly to BAAQMD officials. “So we’re well aware of them and we’re happy to speak to them, because our work is based in science.”

Many of the criticisms question the effectiveness of the district’s Spare the Air policy, which prohibits the burning of wood, pellets or other solid fuels on specified days. (First-time violators can receive a fine of $100, and the cost goes up from there.) But some say the district’s method for declaring Spare the Air days in the first place is flawed, self-serving or even conspiratorial.

So how does the Bay Area Air Quality Management District determine which days are OK for burning, and which aren’t?

To begin with: data. According to Kurt Malone, BAAQMD’s supervising air quality meteorologist, weather information is “provided to us twice daily at three hourly increments extending out 72 hours.” This isn’t just National Weather Service data, but highly detailed information from various sources on Bay Area conditions.

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