Background and Mission Statement
Updated August 2013
Mission StatementThe Air Resources Board has been involved in responses to air-related emergencies since as early as 1991, but in 2009 an official emergency response program came into being to address the mounting concern for public health in the wake of wildfires and other air emergencies in California. Following its inception the ARB has expanded the scope of its emergency response activities to include the following areas:
- Protect the public from acute exposure hazards of major unplanned air contaminant releases and other emergencies with air quality impacts.
- Maintain and improve emergency preparedness so as to provide accurate, timely, and actionable air pollution measurements, forecasts, and advisories on an emergency basis.
- Represent the California Air Resources Board in developing Board-mandated and interagency response plans.
- Collaborate with other emergency response entities for optimum technical and operational effectiveness.
A Brief History of Emergency Response in the ARBOn July 14th, 1991, several Southern Pacific rail cars derailed on the Cantara Loop near Dunsmuir. One of the rail cars ruptured and released about 19,500 gallons of the herbicide metam sodium into the Sacramento River. Forty-five miles of the river and portions of Lake Shasta were virtually sterilized, more than 200,000 fish were killed, and several hundred people were treated for eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. As a result of this catastrophic incident, Senate Bill 48 (Thompson) was adopted into law creating the Railroad Accident Prevention and Immediate Deployment (RAPID) Force, and organizing and coordinating the state response to large-scale hazardous materials transportation incidents.
The subsequent air assessment response to the Dunsmuir spill demonstrated the inherent difficulties in rapidly, reliably, and accurately measuring, modeling, or otherwise characterizing the “environmental fate” of exotic air pollutants, especially at sub-ppm levels. Further realizations about the literally thousands of hazardous materials that could be emitted to the air in similar incidents, the significant limitations of air monitoring and modeling techniques, and the dearth of reliable, real-time monitoring methods or even established sampling and analytical methods for all those materials continued to unnerve knowledgeable people.
A team of knowledgeable experts were brought together from various programs in the ARB to form the Emergency Response Team. This team could be called on during emergency air situations to bring the ARB’s resources to bear quickly and in a useful manner. Smaller state and local agencies did not always have the resources necessary to deal with large situations, and that’s where this early Emergency Response Team came in.
Fast-forward twenty years to 2011: the ERT has evolved and expanded into its own program within the ARB, with full time specialized staff on-hand. The field staff are continually searching for and training with cutting edge air monitoring equipment, conducting outreach programs to improve interactions with smaller local agencies and the general public, and efficiently and effectively responding to requests for assistance from any who need it.