Angry White Men and Air Quality

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By Tom Frantz

Here are three items that might be of interest to those whose health is affected by local air quality.

First, the air quality index (AQI) used by the local air district needs to be updated. They still use the old standard of 75 parts per billion (PPB) for ozone even though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes a more health protective standard of 70 PPB. This means that when residents check the air district Web-based “real time” RAAN system, the charts might indicate the air is relatively safe to breathe.

In contrast, residents would frequently reach the opposite conclusion if they checked the AirNow Web site hosted by the EPA. There were 28 days this summer when our Valley Air District claimed the ozone levels were only moderate while the EPA warned that they were unhealthy for major population groups such as young people, the elderly and the sick.

Second, most of the politicians on the Valley Air Board are clearly guided by angry White men who think any government regulation is an attack on individual freedom. These are the same idiots, by the way, who insist that the right to bear arms includes automatic weapons that can kill dozens of people in a couple of minutes. An indication of this situation was some revealing comments recorded in the minutes of the local Air Board meeting of June 15. Board Item #10 was to approve a contract for a survey regarding fireplace burning in the Valley. Steve Worthley, a Tulare County supervisor, was upset.

According to the minutes, “He [Steve Worthley] maintained the District’s survey should stay away from mentioning a total ban on wood burning devices, saying the Board has always made it a priority to protect the local economy as well as the rights of Valley residents. He added it is not a good idea for the government to set rules that people will disobey.”

In contrast, Oliver Baines, an African-American who represents low-income people of color as a City Council member for the heavily polluted westside of Fresno, said, according to the minutes, “He does not agree that the survey should not ask certain questions. He said the Board has publicly discussed and considered a ban on wood burning due to the serious threat that this air basin is under with its air quality standards. He said we should not be afraid to ask the question as the public needs to know what the Board is talking about. He said it could serve as a catalyst to help the public become aware of the sense of gravity of the situation in the Valley and the subsequent considerations.”

In the end, Worthley got his way. An ad hoc committee was formed to review the survey questions. Worthley was placed on the committee and Baines was not.

Third, Valley breathers could soon have some rules actually mandating controls on pollution from dirty agricultural equipment. Almond harvesters are one current item under consideration. The California Air Resources Board is proposing regulations that might include an eventual termination of voluntary, incentive-based programs and a mandate for purchase of only the lower dust emitting type of almond harvesters. Farmer representatives at a recent Air District workshop (Sept. 26) went ballistic at just the mention of any mandatory agricultural program.

Unfortunately, these White angry farm guys are willing to accept restrictions only if they are voluntary and heavily incentivized. They immediately began to insist that there is not enough science to prove the dust from almond harvesting is harmful to public health. The Air District has played along by saying, without evidence, that the almond harvest dust may bother a few people in isolated areas but it is not preventing the Valley from reaching the federal health standards because the monitors are placed in urban areas. This is Orwellian nonsense at its finest.

Related to the above, Valley residents just went through another horrible almond harvest season of breathing dust filled air. The summer season from May through July averaged 17.2 micrograms of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and 51.2 micrograms of the coarser particulates (PM10). The almond harvest season, from the first week of August through the second week of October, averaged 20.7 micrograms of PM2.5 and 87.0 micrograms of PM10.

The only conclusion is that the almond harvest was at least partly responsible for a 20% rise in PM2.5 levels and a 70% rise in PM10. It is difficult to argue that controls on these agricultural-related dust emissions should not include mandates, but that is exactly what these angry White men are doing while the majority suffer the consequences.

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Longtime clean air advocate Tom Frantz is a retired math teacher and Kern County almond farmer. A founding member of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition (CVAQ), he serves on its steering committee and as president of the Association of Irritated Residents. The CVAQ is a partnership of more than 70 community, medical, public health, environmental and environmental justice organizations representing thousands of residents in the San Joaquin Valley unified in their commitment to improving the health of Californians. For more information, visit www. calcleanair.org.