The South Coast Air Quality Management District, the agency that could effectively ban beach fire rings throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties, released preliminary results Wednesday showing increased levels of particulate matter in the air around the bonfires.
The possible ban has sparked intense debate among the county's beach cities, with Newport Beach residents living close to fire rings pushing for their removal because of associated health risks and Huntington Beach residents leading the charge to keep a Southern California tradition alive.
The type of particulate matter generated by wood smoke, which the studies measured, are linked to respiratory health problems, air quality regulators said.
According to the report, the result of monitoring near clusters of fire rings in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and Los Angeles, concentrations of wood smoke-related pollution got up to 10 times the average "background" levels in those beaches' parking lots.
In residential areas closest to the fire rings, such as along Seaview Avenue in Corona del Mar, monitors logged particulate matter concentrations up to three times the background level.
In some cases, particulate matter levels spiked to degrees considered unhealthy, according to national public health guidelines. Those incidences appeared to be more frequent in spots close to Newport beaches than ones near the bonfires burning on Huntington beaches.
Monitors have been in place since late March, the report said, and are continuing to track pollution levels.
District spokesman Sam Atwood said Wednesday that the level of monitoring is typical for the agency's special monitoring projects, which are undertaken when a particular community has concerns.
He said the district board's expected decision to put off deciding on the fire ring issue from its June 7 meeting to its July 5 meeting, at the earliest, will give communities the opportunity to look at pollution levels during the summer — peak time for bonfires.
"I think we would expect to see the same levels — perhaps higher — when the use is more intense," Atwood said.
Newport Beach Mayor Keith Curry said the report was "pretty clear and convincing that there are health risks living adjacent to beach fires."
He said he hadn't had the chance to review the results closely yet.
However, the results seemed to support a city-by-city approach to the possible beach fire ban, since, "the impacts on [the Huntington Beach] community seem to be different and not as severe as they were on Newport Beach," Curry said.
A public meeting on the issue is scheduled for Friday evening in Huntington Beach.