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Alma Antonio
Professor Jaya Dubey
Writing 39C
27 October 2015
Air Pollution in Fresno: The Root Contributors and Its Impact on a Growing Population
Lowering air pollution in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley would save
more lives annually than ending all motor vehicle fatalities in the two regions, according to a
new study.(Huffington Post).
The study conducted in 2008 by CSU Fullerton, noted that the California Highway
Patrol recorded 2,521 vehicular deaths in the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast Air Basin in
2006, compared to 3,812 deaths attributed to respiratory illness caused by particulate pollution
(Cone). According to Will Barret, senior analyst of the lung association, a similar study
conducted recently estimates that about 7,000 deaths in California are due to particle pollution
complications (Caiola). Further, demonstrating that deaths due to respiratory illnesses and
complications caused by particulate matter pollution are not issues of the past but rather still a
prevalent issue throughout the state and throughout the cities like Fresno, whose particulate
matter pollution is well-known to have been above the states air quality standards in the last
couple of years.
Historically, Fresno has consistently been ranked amongst the most polluted cities in the
nation. Earlier this year the American Lung Association released their findings on Air Pollution
based on the evidence the organization gathered through 2011, 2012, and 2013. These findings
allow the organization to evaluate air quality throughout the nation. In these findings Fresno was
ranked as being the number one most polluted city in the nation year round as well as being the
number one most polluted city in the nation with short term particle pollution (Most Polluted
Cities). This however is not new news to those residing in the San Joaquin Valley, as air pollution
has been a prominent problem in the area, however this issue has become more noticeable in

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recent years due to the prolonged amount of days throughout the year in which the area has
constantly been unable to satisfy the air quality standards. In fact the map(Figure 1) provided by
the American Lung Association grades Californias counties daily ozone pollution according to
the air quality standards, amongst those counties receiving a failing grade is Fresno county, the
San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California regions known for constantly having bad air quality
problems. The map was publish in 2015 using data collected between 2011-2013, meaning that
the air pollution problem does in fact exist and has been a consistent issue in the area at least for
the past three years. Records however indicate that Fresno has in fact consistently ranked
amongst the counties with the most severe ozone problem since 1980, in which it surpassed
the number of State standard exceedance days 1. Little improvement is seen in crippling the
number of exceedance days throughout this decade given that in 1999, Fresno had 128
exceedance days, nearly the same amount of 1980 which had 124 exceedance days (California
almanac of emissions and air quality 2001). Similarly studies conducted in 2008 by the
California Environmental Protection Agency, ranked Fresno as one of the most polluted cities in
the nation, once again showed that air pollution issue followed Fresno into the new millennia
(Marcum). Time after time, Fresnos air quality seems to be consistently affected by pollution in
the area, despite efforts to improve this problem. These sources apart from reporting the air
pollution problem have also consistently attributed the problem to various factors such as
Fresnos growing population, geography, traffic, agriculture practices, and mitigation practices
between local agencies and local corporations. Furthermore this problem is exacerbated by the
long summers, droughts, and fires that characterize the area.
The problem of air pollution in Fresno, California has continuously been addressed in
state reports and in national air quality investigations but has been handled by local air quality
board, which has ultimately mishandled the severity of the issue and its implications not on

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purpose but rather through lack of cooperation from the polluting sources. It wasnt until 2008
that air quality in Fresno became a state and national concern, raised by local concerns from
citizens and researchers alike who have connected bad air quality as a serious contributing factor
to health problems and to the decreasing quality of life. The problem remains unresolved despite
local policies established to regulate air quality
exposing the need to formulate an action plan that
will regulate all polluting sources on a similar equal
basis so that the efforts made by some of these
sources are not countered or in any way undermined
by unequal or lenient regulation from other
polluting sources. However, why should Fresnos
air pollution matter to anyone who is not directly
affected by this problem? Well, for to starters
identifying the sources that contributed to this
massive problem will help determine possible
solutions, understanding how this problem is

Figure 1: California Map which

categorizes major counties and air


basins according to the grade they
received based on the national air
standards.

particularly damaging will hopefully be informational and inspire preventive measures in cities
who share similarities with Fresno and face similar problems to be taken.
Currently the bad air quality of the Fresno area has resulted in a large part of its
population to either have some type respiratory or cardiovascular disease, or are at a high risk of
developing such disease. In most instances the most widely affected group of people are children
and the elderly, especially those who live in areas more likely to be closer to the source of the
pollutants. Although their health problems cannot solely be blamed on the air quality of the city
it is without doubt the leading significant factor that affects the health of its inhabitants. In fact,

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one in six children in the San Joaquin Valley is diagnosed with asthma before the age of 18, an
epidemic level. Currently in Fresno County, approximately 176,000 children and adults have
been diagnosed with asthma (Fresno County Asthma Profile). Although this number may not
seem like a staggering number in a county that houses over a million residents most of these
affected residents come from families with low socioeconomic status, making obtaining adequate
health care quite difficult on their own. Asthma episodes can be managed with medication and
regular medical monitoring however in low income households sometimes these preventative
measures are not taken as a lack of financial resources. Children in these low-income household
often are devoid of regular access to health care, and lack of medical access makes these children
more prone to suffering severe asthmatic episodes that result in trips to the emergency room and
even hospitalizations. It thus is a bit ironic that, California was one of the first states in the
nation to codify the concept of environmental justice as the fair treatment of people of all
races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and
enforcement of environmental lawsDefining fair treatment to mean that no group of people
should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from
industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies(Fresno Report). This mission
however is rather contradicted by the fact that 51% of those children affected by bad air pollution
in Fresno come from Hispanic low-income household, demonstrating the fact that there is a
significant socioeconomic apartheid in the area. The graph (Figure 2) is yet another indication
that not enough effort is being implemented into correcting the social injustices that result as a
byproduct of the air pollution problem in Fresno, especially since the number of children
diagnosed with asthma is rising at a constant rate.
Asthma Hospitalizations, by Age Group: 1998 to 2013

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(Age Group: All)

Figure 2: Number of asthma hospitalizations, by age group. Rates are age-adjusted per
10,000 population. Asthma hospitalizations are defined as having a principal diagnosis of
relating to asthmatic complications. Data are based on the number of visits made, not the
number of people making these visits. Transfers from one hospital to another will appear
as two separate visits.
Source: Kidsdata.org
Another area that is considerably being affected by the air quality in Fresno is crop yield
per acreage which is inducing agricultural losses to the local and state economy. According to
the Economic Assessment of the Effects of Air Pollution on Agricultural Crops in the San
Joaquin Valley Journal published in 1985, stated that in 1978, the economic impact of air
pollution in the San Joaquin Valley was estimated to exceed $117 million (in 1978
dollars)(California Air Resources Board Journal of 1985). The losses that are being figured here
take into consideration the crops which are most grown in the area and had a significant lower
yield using the same amount of resources due to chemicals(pollutants) found in the air that stunt
the growth of the plants. At this point, Fresno was experiencing air pollution that passed the state
regulations, however the losses incurred where already were significant to its economy.

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Currently the economic impact due to air pollution in this area cannot be estimated due to the
fact that California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history making is difficult to
attribute agricultural losses solely to air pollution given that different factors have now arisen in
the San Joaquin Valley. However the estimate of the losses suffered in 1978 should give a
general idea to the losses that the area is currently suffering, being far greater than it was 37
years ago.
The impact of air pollution in Fresno can no longer go on without being treated it is no
longer enough to identify the problem but it is rather crucial that this problem be rectified. The
bad air quality that Fresno faces cannot be attributed to one sole contributor rather it is important
to understand that air pollution in Fresno has been created by combination of factors. A
combination of factors that should be considered equally when formulating plans to improve the
air quality in Fresno. Among the various factors that contribute to the bad air quality that Fresno
faces are its growing population, heavy trafficked interstates, heavy use of agricultural
equipment, its geographic location, droughts, and mitigation of polluting sources by local air
board with local business practices. The first thing that should be identified is where the problem
gained momentum to achieve the scale at which it is today. According to an article in The City
Lab, air quality has significantly degraded within the past decade in which there has been a
noticeable 16% increase in the Fresno population. This population increased resulted in an
increase of urban sprawl and an increase in automobile usage. This population growth was not
only the result of births in Fresno but was actually caused by the increase of housing prices in the
coastal region between 2000 and 2007 which forced many individuals living in the coastal region
to move inland where housing prices where cheaper (Alamo et al,2015). The rising prices in
these coastal regions continue to be a problem today, meaning that population growth is expected
in inland cities such as Fresno. With a growing population in Fresno it is primordial to improve

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its air quality as more individuals will be threatened and face the challenges that its current
residents face every day.
Another constant source contributing to the worsening of air quality in the area are
vehicle emissions (NOx emissions). Fresnos population has historically relied heavily on using
cars as a means of transportation due to
the fact that Fresno is characterize as
urban sprawl. In Fresno 1.3% residents
use public transportation to get to work,
while 77% drive alone to get to
work .Although most people dont have
long commutes to work, ...the short
commute in Fresno has a downside of being heavily auto-oriented which means, for example,
more air pollution and problems for people who can't afford cars(Alexander). Although car
emissions do threaten the air quality standards in Fresno the biggest threat and obstacle in
improving air quality in Fresno perhaps comes from the agricultural corporations that have made
Fresno their home. These local corporations often employ large trucks that transport crops and
produce to various areas of the nation. Whilst these vehicles are in fact required to pass smog
certification, their constant usability by local agricultural business in the area make it a threat to
Figure 3: Sources of NOx Emissions within the San
air quality of the area given that they
Joaquin Valley Air Basin
contribute to 43% of the daily NOx emissions in the San Joaquin Valley basin as shown in
Figure3. NOx emissions are amongst the polluting sources that Cal EPA hopes to regulate,
however it since the vehicles follow the state standards the agency cannot interfere further, rather
the agency seeks to regulate emissions by advocating carpooling and reduction of vehicular
transport when public transportation is available (Guidance for Assessing and Mitigating Air
Quality Impacts). Ultimately

Source: California Emissions Projection Analysis


Model NorCal v1.04 2013 Annual Average
Figure 3: The pie chart above shows vehicular
emissions per day. Heavy duty trucks used by local
Fresno agriculture business emit 130 tons per day of
NOx, 43% of the daily total.

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reducing NOx emissions produced by vehicles requires multiple and consistent cooperation form
the conscious citizens, corporations, and the government alike. However car emissions will
continue to be a problem for the area if stricter regulation and cooperation is not achieved.
Furthermore, Fresnos air pollution is worsened by its geographic location, its extremely
hot temperatures, nearby wild fires, and droughts that are prone to happen in this area and in
California in general. Fresno is located in the San Joaquin Valley, surrounded by mountains
which create a basin that traps winds and its pollutants making air circulation a bit difficult,
meaning that particulate matter trapped in the air basin accumulate over time and take more time
to leave the basin (Why the Air Gets Trapped?). Unfortunately for agencies who seek to
improve air quality, the geographic aspect of Fresno is an obstacle that will have to be considered
in potential efforts to change the air quality in the area. Furthermore the drought that has plagued
California for the past three years starting in 2012 has severely contributed to an increase of
fallow dry land in the area, which in returns contributes dust and pollens to the Fresno air, along
with an increase of amount of brush that facilitate the spread of wild fires (Caiola).The drought
has especially eliminated the natural methods (rain and thunderstorms) in which the basin
naturally disposed of some of the pollutants (Caiola). Given that Fresno has consistently been
sunny year round, for the past couple of years, and that the California drought shows little
potential in improving, the area is bound to keep facing the obstacles created by these pollutants
in the past years. Although its geographic region is a factor that cannot be controlled it should not
be disregarded as an inconvenience rather it should be taken into consideration when planning
approaches to reduce, regulate, and control air pollution.
In order to change Fresnos current air quality issue, we have to take all of these
contributing factors in mind, we no longer have the luxury to address one factor given that
modern urban pollution now consist of various factors. To change the current situation we can

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begin with addressing car emissions standards, curving them in such a way that we account for
foreseeable additions to the area. In terms of the agricultural sectors more penalties and less
permits should be allowed in per year in order to incentivize corporations to reduce their
contribution to local pollution, because it is obvious that the current policies and penalties in
place have not gotten them to change their approach to the environment otherwise we might have
a seen a change in the pollution trend over the years. These regulations and approaches should be
done while taken into consideration the geographic region Fresno belongs to. Currently efforts to
improve air quality are being undertaken by San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District,
Environmental Protection Agency, and Air Resource Board. The broad set of actions to improve
air quality include reducing car emission, mitigation with point source pollutants, providing
Grants as incentives, among other actions to improve emission, however air quality improvement
has proven quite challenging due to the many variables involved.
Simply understanding what causes air pollution is not the sole purpose of this paper
rather it is addressing how this issue in the end affects not only the citizens in Fresno, the state
economy, but also other parts of the world that share similarities to the city of Fresno. If we can
successfully and efficiently resolved the issues that the city of Fresno faces as a result of air
pollution we can ultimately emulate these methods in other parts of the world in order to
transform the environment into a safer and cleaner environment in which to live our lives.

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Works Cited
Alamo, Cha, Brian Uhler, and Marionne OMalley. Californias High Housing Cost: Causes
and Consequences. Legislative Analysis Office.17 March .2015. Web. 19
Oct.2015<http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2015/finance/housing-costs/housing-costs.aspx>
Alexander, Kurt. At Last, A Positive Report for Fresno: Short Commutes. The Fresno Bee. 4
March 2013. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.
Berg, Nate. Why Does Californias Central Valley Have Such Bad Air Pollution? The Atlantic
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<

http://www.citylab.com/weather/2011/09/behind-pollution-californias-central-valley>
California Air Resources Board. Economic Assessment of the Effects of Air Pollution on
Agricultural Crops in the San Joaquin Valley (Book, 1995)
California Cities Top List of Most Polluted Areas in American Lung Association Report.
California Cities Top List Of Most Polluted Areas in American Lung Association Report.
Web. 15. Oct. 2015.
California County Asthma Profiles California Breathing. March 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015
Caoila, Sammy. Drought Conditions Make Bad Air Worse, Aggravate Health Problems.
Sacbee. 28 June 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015
Cone, Tracie. California Air Pollution Kills More Than Car Crashes, Study Shows.
Huffington
Post. 14 Dec 2008. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
Frequently Asked Questions. San Joaquin Valley- Air Pollution Control District. Web. 15 Oct.
2015
Fresno Initiative Report. California Environmental Protection Agency.
Guidance for Assessing and Mitigating Air Quality Impacts. San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution
Control District. 19 March 2015. Web. 20. Oct. 2015
Kidsdata | Lucile Packard Foundation for Childrens Health. Kidsdata| Lucile Packard
Foundation for Childrens Health. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

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Marcum, Diana. Fresno Ranks No. 1 on California pollution List. 23 April. 2014. Web. 12 Oct.
2015.
Most Polluted Cities-American Lung Association | State of the Air 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
Place Matters for Health in the San Joaquin Valley: ensuring opportunities for Good
Health for all- A report on Health inequities in the San Joaquin Valley. Joint
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Political and Economic studies San Joaquin Valley Place Matters Team. March

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"State of the Air 2015" Report Released by the American Lung Association." 29 Apr. 2015. Web.
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<

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Why the Air Gets Trapped? Clean Air Primer. San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control
District. Web. 15 Oct. 2015