If you live in Hanford, there's no getting around the fact that you breathe some of the nation's worst air, according to an annual pollution report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association.
Hanford, Visalia and Porterville were tied as the second-most polluted cities in the U.S. for ozone (smog), the third-most polluted cities for short-term particle pollution and the third-most polluted cities for annual particle pollution.
These San Joaquin Valley cities are getting hit with a double whammy that increases asthma and other lung disease rates.
It works like this:
- Hot summers and a stagnant air bowl surrounded by mountains breed high smog levels that remain stubbornly high.
- Year-round internal combustion engines burning petroleum-based fuels and wood-burning releases tiny particles into the air.
Drought and warming temperatures make the situation worse, according to Praveen Buddiga, a Fresno asthma and allergy specialist.
"Reducing pollution will only become more challenging because climate change increases the risk for ozone and particle pollution, and makes cleaning up the air harder in the future," Buddiga said. "Our most vulnerable citizens — children, seniors and those with lung diseases such as lung cancer, asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema — suffer the greatest."
The report suggests solutions that include transitioning more rapidly to zero-emission technologies, maintaining wood-burning restrictions, revitalizing downtowns and including more walking, biking and transit alternatives to driving.
Kings County Supervisor Craig Pedersen, a director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, said the technology for a zero-emissions goal is "coming around" but isn't quite there yet.
"The reality is, the technology doesn't exist," he said. "Until such time as it does exist, the air [district] is using the highest and best technology."
Pedersen suggested the possibility of requesting an exemption from some federal air standards because of drought, which he said is by itself clogging the air with soot from forest fires in the summer and with blowing dust brought on by hundreds of thousands of acres of fallowed farm ground.
"Because of the drought ... we're not meeting the [particulate matter] 2.5 [micron] standard," he said.
The 2.5 micron standard refers to tiny particles of soot and other pollution that lodge deep in the lungs. Some come from wood-burning, others originate from burning petroleum-based fuels.
"We've implemented every policy we could ... short of shutting the Central Valley down," Pedersen said. "It's the application of new technology when it becomes available and reliable, but you just can't burden businesses with unfeasible costs."
"We're just going to have to continue chipping away at all those things," he said.