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Valley Cities Top National Lists For Air Pollution

The Fresno skyline as seen through a thick cloud of pollution from the San Joaquin River
Joe Moore
Valley Public Radio
The Fresno skyline as seen through a thick cloud of pollution from the San Joaquin River

If you’re expecting clean air in the San Joaquin Valley, don’t hold your breath.

The American Lung Association released this week its annual State of the Air report. It shows that Valley cities continue to top the lists for the most polluted areas in the nation for ozone, short-term particle pollution, and annual particle pollution.

According to the report, the Bakersfield-Delano area is the most polluted in the country by short-term particle pollution, and it ties with Merced for worst annual particle pollution. The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside area is the most polluted by ozone, but Valley cities are ranked close behind. In fact, all eight Valley counties received an “F” grade for ozone pollution.

During a telephone briefing with reporters, Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior director for policy and advocacy with the Lung Association in California, said Valley counties have achieved reductions in ozone pollution.

“But the hardest challenge that we have in the Valley is particle pollution – it’s very, very difficult, and multiple cities still rank prominently on the list of worst polluted,” she said. “The San Joaquin Valley has not achieved the same levels of reduction that we’ve seen in other parts of the state.” 

"Our lungs simply weren't made to breathe the levels of air pollution Californians continue to have to breathe" - Dr. David Tom Cooke

This air pollution has real effects on people’s lungs and lives. Take it from Dr. David Tom Cooke, an assistant professor at UC Davis Medical Center and a governing board member of the Lung Association in California.

“Our lungs simply weren’t made to breathe the levels of air pollution Californians continue to have to breathe,” he said. “This report reminds us we need to do more so all Californians can breathe clean and healthy air.”

The report says the Valley Air District’s efforts – like the wood burning regulation – are making a difference for particle pollution, but more efforts are needed. It says most of the air pollution stems from cars, trucks, buses, construction, agricultural equipment, and residential wood burning. The weather and terrain of the region exacerbate the problem, by forming and trapping pollutants, especially in the south Valley.

Rebecca Plevin was a reporter for Valley Public Radio from 2013-2014. Before joining the station, she was the community health reporter for Vida en el Valle, the McClatchy Company's bilingual newspaper in California's San Joaquin Valley. She earned the George F. Gruner Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and the McClatchy President's Award for her work at Vida, as well as honors from the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Plevin grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is also a fluent Spanish speaker, a certified yoga teacher, and an avid rock-climber.
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