Clearing the Air

Clearing the Air
Kevin Hall

By Kevin Hall

The Pivotal Year Ahead
The coming year will prove to be pivotal in the effort to reduce Central Valley air pollution to “safe” levels any time soon. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District  is required to create its first cleanup plan for “fine particulates” in 2012 and, possibly, a new plan for ozone reductions, too.

Fine particulates are usually referred to as PM2.5, which means solid particles known as particulate matter less than two and a half microns across. These pollutants are small enough to bypass the body’s defenses and pass straight into the bloodstream leading to damage on a cellular level. On the way in, they cause significant damage to the respiratory system and from there go on to trigger heart attacks and strokes.

These chunks of gunk are suspended in humid air, which in the Valley means dangerously high levels in fall, winter and spring mornings and evenings. Under certain weather conditions, the danger stays high all day and night.

And unlike the ozone gas that attacks your health in the spring, summer and fall (note the overlap of both types of pollution in spring and fall), which are caused by two major components, fine particulates have five sources. Also unlike ozone, the air board will no longer be able to focus on reducing a single type of pollution to reduce our toxic atmospheric soup. They’ll have to go after all of them because any combination of the five, and sometimes just one of them, causes this most deadly of all pollution types.

Why is this wider regulatory net important? Dairies.

Consider the inventory of pollutants as measured in tons per day. This literally refers to the total physical weight of pollutants emitted daily by all sources and which must be reduced by vast amounts to get us to clean air. We’re currently at around 1,400 tons per day.

All vehicles on the road—from the smallest, cleanest passenger vehicle to the largest, dirtiest diesel truck—combined emit a total of 357 tons per day of PM2.5-causing pollutants. All of them. Together.

Farming operations alone, primarily mega-dairies, emit 373 tons of ammonia and another 72 tons of “volatile organic compounds.” We’re not talking about farm equipment, pesticides or fertilizers, just dairies, feedlots and other confined animal feeding operations. In short, a few thousand businesses cause more pollution than the hundreds of thousands of vehicles of all types on Valley roads today.

Worse yet, pollution from these least-regulated places is climbing while vehicle emissions are dropping. In fact, the growth in dairy and feedlot emissions is projected to exceed the reductions in vehicle emissions in the coming years.

This will be the year of truth for Valley air board members. These mostly rural elected officials will be faced with the biggest test of their anti-regulatory political philosophy ever because we’re going into 2012 armed with two new reports that, at long last, severely undercut the air board’s favorite delay rallying cry of “we need more research.” We have it.

Land of Risk

A recently released UC Davis report, “Land of Risk, Land of Opportunity,” is a data-based mapping project of the Valley’s most at-risk residents and where they live. Advocates typically refer to these as environmental justice communities and the researchers have labeled them Cumulative Environmental Vulnerability Assessment Zones. Go to to see the whole report and find your place on the map. More than a third of the Valley’s nearly 4 million residents are at high risk due to socioeconomic and environmental factors.

While you’re digging in, check out the Central California Health Policy Institute’s “Impacts of Short-Term Changes in Air Quality on Emergency Room and Hospital Use in California’s San Joaquin Valley” and read about the direct link between air pollution and asthma attacks in the valley. Visit or just search online for the institute by name.


Kevin Hall is director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition based in Fresno, online at and on Facebook. 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 improve the health of Californians. Contact him at


  • Mike Rhodes

    Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. is his website. Contact him at

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x