FRESNO, CA--Last week's lunchtime round-table discussion, "Not Another Generation: What We Can Do Now to Restore Healthy Air in Our Communities?""at Toledo's Restaurant in Fresno, CA hosted by non-profit environmental justice organization, Healthy Air Alliance, and moderated by ONME News publisher, Julia Dudley Najieb, brought together expert panelists to address the visible effects of poor air quality in ethnic communities, as well as doable solutions for individuals to help reduce ozone and particulate matter pollution (PM2.5).
PM2.5 has been known to have detrimental effects on the heart and lungs, and are linked to a long list of health problems, including asthma, lung cancer, Valley Fever and other lung infections.
It is no wonder that Central Valley residents suffering from poor air quality illnesses and infections spend an estimated $11 billion in medical bills and missed days of work. In fact Central Valley community activist Paula Massey, who was one of the roundtable panelists, shared a passionate story about her son who died from Valley Fever; her other son has also been diagnosed with the same lung infection and may risk the same fate.
Massey, who has lived in Kings County since 1983 and lived in the south-side of Hanford since 1989 encouraged people during the discussion to understand the symptoms of Valley Fever and the preventive measures to reduce certain risks to agricultural dust and pollution, (listen to audio below.)
Hanford, CA along with Fresno and Madera ranked number one in the top US cities with the worst air quality, Bakersfield was number two, Visalia number four--the American Lung Association gave air quality in the Central Valley an “F” grade.
According to the State of California California Department of Public Health Health and Human Services Agency Division of Communicable Disease Control 1, Valley fever (also called coccidioidomycosis or “cocci”) is an infectious disease caused by the Coccidioides fungus that lives in the soil and dirt in certain areas of California and the southwestern United States. If one breathes in this fungus from dust in the air, it can infect his/her lungs where symptoms include coughing, fever, chest pain, or tiredness.
The Center for Disease Control reported that more than 20,000 cases of Valley Fever are reported each year in the United States, although far more cases go undiagnosed and/or unreported: 16,000 of those reported cases were located in Arizona and California.
Future scientist and programmer, Kieshaun White who headed project “Healthy Fresno Air,” was also a panelist and long-life asthma sufferer, described his story of why he wanted to help educate poorer communities of color, especially in West Fresno where he currently resides.
He has been educating the youth and people in general about daily air quality warnings regarding environmental airborne hazards. He went into detail about the experiment which uses drone technology and tools to measure pollutants found in the air over city schools. The data is stored, explained, and made public through a website and app, http://www.purpleair.com.
Panelist Chris DeLeon, representing Fresno Metro Ministry, runs a community garden program in Fresno, CA and is expanding to other parts of the Valley. DeLeon described his success rate of implementing community gardens in urban areas and the incredible benefits of doing so (listen to audio below.)
According to GreenleafCommunities.org, Community gardens:
Help improve air and soil quality
Increase biodiversity of plants and animals
Reduce “food miles” that are required to transport nutritious food
Can replace impervious structures and improve water infiltration
Can reduce neighborhood waste through composting
Positively impact the urban micro-climate
They also stated on their website that;
Poor nutrition and obesity are both challenges to low-income neighborhoods. Low accessibility to nutritious foods can cause health problems to residents located in food deserts. The addition of gardens to these areas may improve nutrition and increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Ana Stone was a panelist representing The San Joaquin Valley Air District (SJVAD,) a public health agency whose mission is to improve the health and quality of life for all Valley residents through efficient, effective and entrepreneurial air quality management strategies. Stone spoke of incentives for residents who can replace their lawnmowers to electric, fireplace upgrade incentives and other resources available to Central Valley residents.
The South Central Fresno Steering Committee Emission Reductions Plan (CERP) to be presented to the SJVAD Board for approval this coming Thursday contains measures that will be implemented to directly reduce emissions in that community, it also includes an air monitoring plan that the public can access as well (view plan here.)
According to SJVAD Board, specifically, South Central Fresno is a densely populated community within the City of Fresno, and is downwind of emissions from the northern portion of Fresno. This community also includes the major roadways of Highways 180 and 41, and their interchange. In addition, emissions reductions in this southern community of Fresno will improve air quality in other communities and cities downwind from the Fresno urban area. This defined community in Fresno also includes the disadvantaged areas of Calwa and Malaga.
Jim Kennedy, a panelist representing organization, Healthy Air Alliance, and who specializes in California environmental issues, brought up the transitioning option biofuel, fuel that is derived from biomass—that is, plant or algae material or animal waste, accoring to Britannica.com. Biofuel is considered to be a source of renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels such as petroleum, coal, and natural gas.
According to a report by the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative at the UCLA and UC Berkeley law schools, transportation fuels from petroleum-based sources represent the single largest source of carbon emissions in California, at more than 37 percent. As a result, state leaders have prioritized petroleum fuel reduction. The same report identified barriers to wide-spread use of biofuel:
Top Four Barriers to Boosting In-State Biofuel Production
1) Policy uncertainty at multiple levels of government, primarily related to incentive
programs, that hinders private investment in biofuels;
2) Restricted market access to existing fuel infrastructure and gas stations due to
incumbent industry resistance from automakers, gas stations, and petroleum fuel
3) Policy misalignment among various levels of government that may inadvertently
limit biofuels deployment; and
4) Lack of feedstock access to some of the most promising in-state resources that
could result in significant environmental and economic co-benefits.
Solutions to Overcome the Barriers
• Greater state support, including cap-and-trade auction revenue, for instate
biofuel production with accurate accounting for carbon intensity,
in order to achieve the greatest environmental and economic benefits from state
• Financial incentives for automakers and gas stations to allow and sell
greater amounts of certain biofuels and higher blend rates to overcome
incumbent industry barriers and offset potential costs of new infrastructure for
• A state-launched process to study the optimal attainment of nitrogen
oxides, greenhouse gas, and petroleum fuel reduction goals, by
determining the amount of each that will achieve the greatest co-benefits and
overall pollution reduction; and
• Improved access to and financial support for in-state feedstock
production, particularly on idled farmland and forest lands to reduce wildfire risks.
Sandra Garcia, a representative from Congressman Jim Costa's office, revealed legislation Costa introduced this past July: H.R. 3973, the Clean School Bus Act. This legislation would provide $1 billion to help school districts across the country replace traditional school buses with electric ones. By reducing students’ exposure to diesel exhaust, the bill would significantly cut down on asthma-related health incidents, increase attendance, and provide long-term savings to school districts.
"The San Joaquin Valley is home to some of the worst air quality in the nation, putting our residents at risk of developing serious illnesses," said Costa.
"Children fare even worse when they breathe in the toxic fumes from buses every day on the way to and from school. The Clean School Bus Act has the potential to take 2500 buses off the road in our valley alone, a huge first step in tackling this problem. Supporting this bill continues my fight to find new and innovative ways to improve the air we breathe.” (listen to audio below.)
Excerpts of last week's roundtable will appear on offline and online TV distribution channels at the end of this month.