See our new section on Air Toxics and Health.

picture-this-brochure-healthAir Pollution can harm lung development in children, can help cause early childhood asthma, and can produce a range of respiratory symptoms in children and adults. Higher air pollution levels have also been associated with a higher incidence of heart problems, including heart attacks, and toxic air pollutants can cause non-cancer health effects, and can increase the risk of developing cancer. People with asthma or other lung and heart conditions are most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution; children are especially vulnerable, since their lungs are still growing and developing, and they spend more time outdoors, and breathe faster than adults. Older adults, and adults who work or exercise outdoors for extended periods of time are also vulnerable.

Air Quality Advisories

Air quality advisories are issued to alert the public about poor air quality in some part of the county. An Air Quality Watch is issued when there is potential for poor air quality in some area of the county; an Air Quality Warning is issued when there is already poor air quality in some part of the county. An advisory may be issued when high winds are producing high particle levels, or when smoke from a wildfire is impacting the county. To subscribe to receive the District’s air quality advisories, go to Subscribe.

Air Quality Standards

Air quality standards define clean air and tell us how much of a substance can be in the air without causing harm. In most cases, California’s air quality standards are more protective of health than the federal standards. Santa Barbara County was designated unclassifiable/attainment for the 2008 federal 8-hour ozone standard on April 30, 2012.  (The 1-hour federal ozone standard was revoked for Santa Barbara County). The County is also considered in attainment for the state 1-hour standard for ozone as of June, 2007.  The California 8-hour ozone standard was implemented in May, 2006. The County violates the state 8-hour ozone standard and the state standard for PM10. The County is in attainment for the federal PM2.5 standard and the state PM2.5 standard (based on monitored data from 2006-2008). Learn more about air quality standards and our attainment status at Meeting Air Quality Standards. On some days we breathe unhealthy air. We are required to adopt Clean Air Plans to show how we will reduce air pollution in order to attain the clean air standards, and to report the Air Quality Index (AQI), a scale of actual levels of ozone and other common pollutants in the air in relation to their health standard. To view historical statistics on ozone and particle pollution levels in Santa Barbara County and other areas, visit the California Air Resources Board.


picture-this-ozoneOzone is a gas created when NOx (nitrogen oxides) and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) react chemically in the presence of sunlight and heat. Ozone is a primary ingredient of smog.


picture-this-ozone2Ozone occurs in two layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.

  • Good up high: in the stratosphere 10 to 30 miles above the surface of the Earth, the stratospheric ozone layer protects life from harmful ultraviolet rays.
  • Bad nearby: on the ground, up to 10 miles above the Earth’s surface, in the troposphere, ground-level ozone can damage human health, crops and buildings.

To read more about ozone and our health, including how ozone damages our lungs, and who is at risk, see Ozone Air Pollution and Health.

Santa Barbara County’s ozone season typically runs from April through October.  The chart below shows exceedances of current air quality standards from 1990 through 2013 compared with the population growth over the same time period. The California 8-hour ozone standard became effective May 2006. Exceedances of this standard prior to 2006 depicted below were not actual exceedances but represent levels of ozone that would have exceeded the standard had it been in place at the time.



Particle Pollution

Fine mineral, metal, soot, smoke, and dust particles suspended in the air can harm our lungs. For health reasons, we are most concerned with inhalable particulate matter less than 10 micrometers in diameter (PM10), and less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5).  Particles of these sizes can permanently lodge in the deepest and most sensitive areas of the lung, and can aggravate many respiratory illnesses including asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. High levels of particle pollution have also been associated with a higher incidence of heart problems, including heart attacks.

Particle Size

Sizes of particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5) and smaller than 10 microns in diameter (PM10) are compared against the average diameter of a human hair, which is approximately 70 microns in diameter.

 The figure below shows the maximum recorded concentration of PM10 in the County since 2003.

PM10 max Chart 2013


High PM10 concentration can also be associated with construction, demolition, and agricultural sites. There are a variety of methods that can be used to minimize dust generation at these sites. See Dust Control to find out more about control methods, health impacts and ways to protect yourself.

Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons, trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere in a process known as the “greenhouse” effect. Human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, are causing these gases to build up in the atmosphere. The result is global warming, also referred to as climate change. The District does not regulate sources of greenhouse gases. However, District rules affecting sources of particle and smog-forming pollutants will also result in some greenhouse gas emission reductions. For more information, see Climate Change Activities at the District, and Climate Change: Information and Links.

Air Toxics

Air toxics are compounds in the air that have the potential to harm our health. People exposed to air toxics at higher concentrations and over time may have an increased chance of getting cancer or experiencing other serious health effects. See our  Air Toxics section for information on air toxics and health and the District’s air toxics program.

More Air Pollution and Health Links

  • To view historical information on ozone and particle pollution levels in Santa Barbara County, and numbers of exceedances of standards by year, see Air Quality Data Statistics on the California Air Resources Board site.
  • For additional information on air pollution and health, see our Health Links page or our directory of all Related Links pages on this site.