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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
ABSTRACT
This essay involves the identification of the root pollutants in the Fresno area, more
specifically how they have existed in the area for long periods of time, and how their existence
over this period of time has generally added to creating bad air quality. The essay also aims to
garner general awareness about the prolonged air pollution in the area and the problem it has
become and how this problem ultimately hinders the quality of life in the area, by showing that it
not only harms humans but also vegetative life. Through showing the historical existence of this
problem, this essay emphasizes the importance of changing the actions taken towards regulating
the polluting sources for the future. Most of the research evidence comes from scientific reports
conducted by government funded agencies that seek to protect the environment and seek to
create an environment in which individuals can live without being threaten by their surroundings.
INTRODUCTION
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).
In 2008, CSU Fullerton conducted a study in the state of California which found that in
2006, 1,291 more people died due to respiratory illnesses caused by particulate matter than
through vehicular accidents (Cone). According to Will Barret, senior analyst of the lung

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association, a similar study conducted recently estimates that about 7,000 deaths in California are
due to particle pollution complications (Caiola). This demonstrates 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 in 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.
Fresno has consistently been ranked amongst the most polluted cities in the nation for
many years now. 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
recent years due to the prolonged amount of days
throughout the year in which the area has constantly Figure 1: California Map which categorizes
been unable to satisfy the air quality standards. In

major counties and air basins according to


the grade they received based on the national
air standards.

fact, the map (Figure 1) provided by the American


Lung Association grades Californias counties daily ozone pollution according to the air quality

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standards, and amongst those counties receiving a failing grade is Fresno county, the San Joaquin
Valley, and Southern California regions. The map was published 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 reducing 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 some efforts to improve this problem. These sources apart from
reporting the air pollution problem have also consequently attributed the problem to various
factors such as Fresnos growing population, geography, mobile sources, and industrial and
agriculture practices. 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
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

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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 particularly damaging will hopefully be informational and inspire preventive
measures in cities similar to Fresno.
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,
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

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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, being one of leading states mandating
environmental justice so that no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the
negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial
operations or policies, be one of the states that has one of the most polluted cities in the nation
(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. The data below is data gathered
specifically from Fresno County, which details the asthma related hospitalizations from various
age groups, between 1998 and 2013.
Asthma Hospitalizations, by Age Group: 1998 to 2013
(Age Group: All)

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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.
Currently the economic impact due to air pollution in this area is estimated based on annual
precipitation, however even with 5 inches of annual precipitation the San Joaquin Valley is
estimated to incur losses of about $2.6 billion dollars in agricultural revenue (Zelezny, Provost).
These agricultural losses are only expected to increase with less annual precipitation happening
each year.
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

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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, massive use of mobile sources, 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 higher 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. Given the population rise in Fresno, it is necessary to improve the
air quality in this region so that less individuals be harmed by the challenges that current
residents face every day.
Another constant source contributing to the worsening of air quality in the area are
mobile source emissions. The Fresno area constantly fails to achieve the state air quality
standards as a result of a large accumulation of air pollutants largely caused by mobile sources,
industrial businesses, and agricultural practices. The most harmful pollutant in the Fresno area is
particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5),a complex mixture which can be generated directly in the form of
soot, smoke, and dust or can form in the atmosphere from the reactions of precursor gases,

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including NOx, SOx, VOCs, and ammonia (Velasco) These gases are prominently emitted in the
San Joaquin Valley, which makes it imperative for the region to implement a regulation plan.
Nitrogen oxides are pollutants caused by mobile sources; in the San Joaquin Valley heavy duty
diesel trucks emissions are the main contributors to the current air pollution problem. In fact
Figure 3 allows us to see that heavy duty trucks are responsible for 43% of the daily NOX
Figure 3: Sources of NOx Emissions within San
emissions in the San Joaquin Valley,
Joaquin Valley Air Basin
while the transportation sector as a
whole is responsible for 76% of the
daily NOx emissions as well as 56%
of the VOC pollution (Air Pollution:
Where Does It Come From?). This
industry is the largest contributor of the
air pollution problem in the San Joaquin

Source: California Emissions Projection Analysis Model


NorCal v1.04 2013 Annual Average

Figure 3: The pie chart above shows vehicular


Valley as well as the largest contributor emissions per day. Heavy duty trucks used by local
Fresno agriculture business emit 130 tons per day of
linked to causing many health problems. NOx, 43% of the daily total.
Particulate matter 2.5 caused by diesel exhaust, found in the San Joaquin Valley, has particularly
been linked to having the potential of causing cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular problems,
because it is a microscopic particle that can be easily inhaled and become trapped in the body.
The large amounts of PM2.5 in Fresno county has increased health disease rates, in fact 1 in 6
children have asthma, and 1 in 8 adults is currently afflicted by either a pulmonary or a
cardiovascular disease. Currently in Fresno County, approximately 176,000 children and adults
have been diagnosed with asthma (Fresno County Asthma Profile) .Along with mobile sources,
stationary sources also contribute to the air pollution of the area, and they account of for 23% of

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the areas VOC pollution. (Air Pollution: Where Does It Come From?) .Although stationary and
area pollution come from small sources of pollution, the areas which are widely known to
contribute to this pollution are industrial businesses, homes, and agricultural practices. The
stationary source pollutants which can be more easily reduced, in this case are polluting practices
from homes and agricultural practices. The rest of the air pollutants that contribute to the current
air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley are naturally occurring pollution. The large accumulation
of these pollutants in the past three years has left Fresno unable to comply with federal standards,
and thus has been deemed non-attainment area. Ultimately reducing NOx emissions produced by
mobile sources, would require multiple and consistent cooperation from conscious citizens,
corporations, and the government alike. However mobile source emissions will continue to be a
problem for the area if stricter regulations and cooperation are 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

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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
begin with addressing car emissions standards, reducing 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

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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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