North County businesses should stop all outdoor work until air quality improves, APCD says

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As intense wildfire smoke continued to hover over North County on Aug. 21—the third day in a row of hazardous air quality there—the SLO County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) issued a press release “strongly recommending” postponing all outdoor work north of the Cuesta Grade until the skies clear.

STAY INSIDE Hazardous air quality continued to impact North County on Aug. 21. The SLO County Air Pollution Control District recommends that people stay indoors if they are in the areas shaded in red. - IMAGE COURTESY OF THE SLO COUNTY APCD
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF THE SLO COUNTY APCD
  • STAY INSIDE Hazardous air quality continued to impact North County on Aug. 21. The SLO County Air Pollution Control District recommends that people stay indoors if they are in the areas shaded in red.
Smoke from multiple Monterey County wildfires is blowing into SLO County thanks to steady northerneastern winds. While officials expect southern winds to help flush out some of the pollution over the weekend, air quality remained “very unhealthy” or “hazardous” from San Miguel to Santa Margarita on Aug. 21.

“When the levels get up to ‘very unhealthy’ and ‘hazardous,’ even the most healthy individuals, if they’re out and exposed, can start getting a burning throat, wheezing, shortness of breath, and light-headedness,” APCD Air Quality Specialist Meghan Field told New Times.



The APCD’s press release stated that outdoor work should cease whenever the local Air Quality Index (API) hits 150 or higher. The API topped 400 in many parts of North County this week—giving it the worst air quality in the world, according to IQAir.

While the APCD does not have the authority to issue a mandatory outdoor work closure order, Field said it wanted to send the strongest possible advice to the community. There are also state labor laws that apply.

“We strongly recommend that restaurants close or switch to take-out only, and that outdoor agricultural and construction work stop,” the Aug. 21 press release read.

Field acknowledged that businesses already struggling with COVID-19 regulations, like restaurants, are now doubly impacted.

“What’s really difficult right now is these restaurants have been asked to move their business outside, and now it’s not safe to be outside,” she said. “They’re definitely stuck between a rock and hard place.”

Weather forecasters say that the winds from Hurricane Genevieve, which is currently moving through Baja California, could bring some relief to the Central Coast this weekend. But that system also comes with more fire risks due to thunder and lightning.

“Lightning has started a lot of these fires,” Field noted. ∆

—Peter Johnson

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