New cam­paign to ‘un­mask’ Fresno’s un­healthy air

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY CAR­MEN GE­ORGE cge­[email protected]­nobee.com

The push for bet­ter air qual­ity in the San Joaquin Val­ley has a new team of ad­vo­cates – doc­tors – who are tak­ing a more ac­tive role in de­mand­ing clean air for the re­gion.

The Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia Asthma Col­lab­o­ra­tive has part­nered with Un­mask My City, a global air pol­lu­tion ini­tia­tive, with health pro­fes­sion­als at the fore­front of call­ing for change.

Fresno is the first city in Cal­i­for­nia to join the ini­tia­tive, said Jeni Miller, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Global Cli­mate and Health Al­liance, dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day out­side a Boys & Girls Club in south­east Fresno.

The new Un­mask Fresno part­ner­ship comes at a key time for air qual­ity ad­vo­cacy in Fresno. The city was se­lected to re­ceive more funds through the pas­sage of Assem­bly Bill 617 in 2017, aim­ing to help com­mu­ni­ties most im­pacted by air pol­lu­tion.

South Cen­tral Fresno and Shafter in Kern County are the first Val­ley com­mu­ni­ties that will re­ceive ad­di­tional re­sources through a Cal­i­for­nia Air Re­sources Board project. The San Joaquin Val­ley Air Pol­lu­tion

Con­trol District ex­pects to re­ceive dozens of new pieces of mo­bile air mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment in the com­ing months.

“With much of the cur­rent dis­cus­sion in the com­mit­tee fo­cus­ing on bound­aries for the project,” Un­mask Fresno lead­ers said, “we be­lieve it is im­por­tant to high­light the need to be in­clu­sive in these air mon­i­tor­ing ef­forts.”

At stake in the fight for clean air is the health of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple liv­ing in the Val­ley – a re­gion re­searchers say has some of the worst air in the coun­try.

The Val­ley was clas­si­fied as be­ing in a “se­ri­ous non-at­tain­ment” area for four fed­eral stan­dards.

Al­most one in six chil­dren in the Val­ley have asthma or some type of res­pi­ra­tory prob­lem – com­pared to a na­tional av­er­age of one in 12 – “and that is di­rectly due to bad air,” said Dr. Praveen Bud­diga, a board mem­ber for the Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia Asthma Col­lab­o­ra­tive who runs the Fam­ily Al­lergy Asthma Clinic in Fresno.

The dan­gers of bad air go far be­yond res­pi­ra­tory is­sues.

“Here in the San Joaquin Val­ley we are the most pol­luted air basin in the na­tion for fine par­ti­cle pol­lu­tion, PM 2.5,” said Genevieve Gale, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cen­tral Val­ley Air Qual­ity Coali­tion, “and PM 2.5 is very fine par­ti­cles in the air, and when we breathe them in, they can ex­as­per­ate res­pi­ra­tory con­di­tions and trig­ger asthma at­tacks, but they are also so fine they can en­ter our blood stream and travel to our heart and brain. And so in­creased lev­els of PM 2.5 are cor­re­lated with in­creased risk of heart at­tack, stroke and pre­ma­ture death.”

Un­mask Fresno is call­ing for bet­ter air qual­ity mon­i­tor­ing where air is di­rectly pol­luted by in­dus­trial and trans­porta­tion sources, along with poli­cies and plans that shift away from diesel and re­duce over­all emis­sions.

“Any small step that we take in the right di­rec­tion is go­ing to help us,” Bud­diga said.

Un­mask Fresno said peo­ple in the Val­ley are ex­posed to un­healthy air on at least 200 days a year.

Among those in at­ten­dance at Wed­nes­day’s news con­fer­ence was Janet Di­et­zKamei, a re­tired gov­ern­ment em­ployee and mem­ber of the Cen­tral Val­ley Air Qual­ity Coali­tion, who de­scribed her­self as a “ca­nary in the coal mine.”

Asthma from bad air has kept her from do­ing many things she loves, in­clud­ing walk­ing her dogs, cy­cling, and gar­den­ing.

“We are the ones who regis­ter when the air is bad,” Di­et­zKamei said of peo­ple with res­pi­ra­tory diseases, “but ev­ery­one is af­fected by the air – ev­ery­one.”

Di­et­zKamei at­tended the event wear­ing a mask over her nose and mouth con­nected to a mo­bile air mon­i­tor that lights up the mask with dif­fer­ent col­ors – green, yel­low, or­ange and red – to show the level of air pol­lu­tion.

Un­mask Fresno wants to place more than 60 Pur­pleAir PM 2.5 mon­i­tors across the re­gion to help.

Jaime Holt, spokes­woman for the San Joaquin Val­ley Air Pol­lu­tion Con­trol District, said Pur­pleAir mon­i­tors aren’t as ex­act as the district’s fed­er­ally rec­og­nized mon­i­tors and sta­tions, which typ­i­cally cost be­tween $20,000 and $50,000 com­pared to $200.

Still, Holt said, “We do be­lieve this cit­i­zen sci­ence is an im­por­tant tool for the Val­ley, as long as the public un­der­stands the lim­i­ta­tions of these mon­i­tors.”

Holt said the largest source of air pol­lu­tion in the Val­ley is “mo­bile sources – any­thing with wheels,” ac­count­ing for about 60 per­cent of air pol­lu­tion. Other pol­lu­tants in­clude farm­ing op­er­a­tions – the run­ning of heavy agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery, ac­count­ing for about 22 per­cent of PM 2.5 pol­lu­tion, Holt said, fire­place burn­ing, about 6 per­cent of pol­lu­tion; and pre­scribed burn­ing in forests and open ag burn­ing, about 5 per­cent of pol­lu­tion.

Un­mask Fresno was crit­i­cal of the air district about open ag burn­ing, say­ing the Val­ley has seen that in­crease by 400 per­cent over the past five years. Holt re­sponded by say­ing a 2003 Cal­i­for­nia clean air law al­lows for this burn­ing if there is not an “eco­nom­i­cally vi­able al­ter­na­tive” and cited a de­cline in biomass fa­cil­i­ties, which turn ma­te­ri­als into power. She added that ag burn­ing is re­stricted to good air days and that she’s seen “great in­ter­est” in ex­plor­ing other al­ter­na­tives, such as chip­ping to cre­ate mulch.

Un­mask Fresno said the Val­ley ex­ports “over $50 bil­lion in agri­cul­tural prod­ucts at home and glob­ally.”

A video to pro­mote #Un­maskFresno says that “Fresno, with a pop­u­la­tion of 500,000, is the gate­way to the world-renowned Yosemite Na­tional Park. Yet peo­ple liv­ing in the area breathe some of the most pol­luted air in North Amer­ica.”

KYLE GRIL­LOT/CCAC Spe­cial to The Bee

Kira, 7, from Wasco, says this of hav­ing asthma: “I don’t like that I al­ways have to be in­side be­cause I like out­side.” She wears a mask con­nected to an air mon­i­tor, which lights up the mask with dif­fer­ent col­ors to show the level of air pol­lu­tion.

CAR­MEN GE­ORGE cge­[email protected]­nobee.com

Janet Di­et­zKamei, right, a re­tired gov­ern­ment em­ployee and Cen­tral Val­ley Air Qual­ity Coali­tion mem­ber, at­tends a news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the doc­tor-led Un­mask Fresno cam­paign out­side a Boys & Girls Club in south­east Fresno.

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