Despite improvements, air gets F

Infographic by Michael Uribes / The Collegian

Fresno’s air quality has improved over the last couple of years but is still so severely polluted that it earned a grade of F from the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report.

Fresno is in the top six of all three statistical categories the study used, including unhealthy ozone days, short-term particle pollution and annual particle pollution. The pollution is linked to asthma and other lung issues. The numbers are based on 2006-2008 figures.

Susie Rico coordinates programs for the Central Valley’s American Lung Association branch. The organization aims to revive the region’s air quality that has had a devastating impact on the younger population.

“I have to say that there is probably one in five in the Valley who do have asthma,” Rico said. “In California asthma is one of the leading causes in school absenteeism and the number one reason they are hospitalized.”

Rico said she was not shocked when she heard that Fresno received a failing grade from the report.

“I was hoping that our grade would be at something other than an F,” Rico said. “But all eight counties have been at an F the past seven years.”

Rico said that Fresno has made efforts to improve the quality of the air and there have been results, but the county still received an F because of tighter grading criteria.

“The EPA recently tightened its air quality standards on which they base unhealthy air,” Rico said. “There is a positive because our air quality is improving, we have to pay attention to the last 11 years because the standards have changed.”

According to the report, Fresno County has lowered the number of bad ozone days over the last couple of years, but the short-term and long-term numbers have gotten worse.

Kay Busby, a nurse practitioner at the Student Health Center, said she sees a lot of students suffering from asthma. The warmer weather, Busby said, will only make the symptoms worsen.

“Bad emissions from cars and trucks and manufacturing emit these pollutants,” Busby said. “When combined with the ozone it tends to be a lot worse during the summer months.”

When harmful ozone reacts with heat it becomes much more harmful, Busby said, and with an increase of flowering plants the pollen can worsen allergies as well as asthma.

Busby said the potential ramifications of asthma and other breathing problems can be devastating.

“Lung problems are being linked to heart disease and other health problems which can account for lots of time missed from work and school,” Busby said.

Busby said that asthma can be an inherited disease but can also be brought on by outside factors.

“People have allergic asthma that involves the immune system,” Busby said. “Asthma is also triggered by an overreaction to lung tissues from an exposure to irritants.”

Rico said there are a lot of misconceptions about why our air is so polluted.

“I would say that it is not the businesses [creating majority of pollution], it is the cars and vehicles,” Rico said. “I hate to say this, a lot of people want to blame agriculture for the bad air, but it’s us who drive cars creating a lot of the particulates.”

Rico added that commuting has such an impact on air pollution increases when school starts in August as more parents pick up and drop off their kids at school.

Rico said there are environmental features of the valley that create the perfect storm for pollution.

“With our geography we are completely surrounded by mountains so all the pollution created here stays here.”

Rico said that there are ways every person can make a difference in improving the quality of our air other than complaining.

“The first thing people can really do is drive one day less per week when it’s possible,” Rico said. “If you have a cell phone charger unplug it. Use fluorescent bulbs. People don’t realize all the different things that contribute to pollution.”

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