One local expert said San Joaquin Valley's air quality could be better, and it's up to individuals and businesses to make it that way.
The improvement in the area's air quality, as well as the hurdles it still faces, was discussed by Anthony Presto of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District at Thursday's Rotary meeting.
"Everyone knows someone who has asthma," said Presto, who has been with the district for the last six years. "We need to make air quality a priority in all business and individual decisions."
He said the San Joaquin Valley has some of the worst air quality in the nation, and only Los Angeles is worse. There are numerous reasons for this phenomenon, Presto said. The region's geographic location, rising population hot summers and dry winters all contribute. To illustrate his point of how the area's geography works against it, he showed a satellite photo of California's Valley blanketed in fog during the winter. He said pollutants hang in the air in the same way.
He handed out clickers, enabling the audience to answer multiple-choice questions and have their statistics tracked in real time. Presto's questions to audience covered topics such as their lifestyle habits, how much they drive and how important air quality was to them and why.
He tied their results into the campaigns the organization runs to inform the audience about what they could do for themselves and the environment. The district has incentive programs for farmers to help them replace aging agricultural pumps, as well as the Clean Green Yard Machine program, which allows residents to trade their gasoline-powered lawnmowers for less expensive electric ones. He handed out insulated lunch bags and encouraged people to bring their lunches from home so they wouldn't have to drive during their break.
He also urged residents to replace their wood-burning fireplaces with natural gas inserts.
"Nothing burns cleaner than natural gas," said Presto.
He said residential wood burning was the largest contributor to particulate matter, or pollutants of concern, during the winter. He said when wood is burned in residential fireplaces, particles are released into the air that are so fine they can penetrate a person's cell walls and enter the bloodstream. He said it can increase the risk of heart attacks.
Janet Hamilton attended the Rotary meeting and said she is now considering an alternative fireplace. She said she uses her wood-burning fireplace about three times a week during the winter because she likes the ambiance it creates in her home.
Presto offered reasons to be optimistic as well. He said air pollution from stationary sources, such as factories, have improved by 80 percent since the 1980s, but more work needs to be done because poor air quality negatively affects the local economy.
He cited a University of California, Fullerton study that attributed higher health costs to poor air quality. People missing school and work due to air quality-related illnesses, drained $6.3 billion from the economy, according to the study.
Pamela Colby recently moved from Portland, Oregon to work in Amy Bader's medical practice and was at the meeting. She said she saw patterns with the area's air problems during her visits prior to her move because she would see people with asthma and allergies.
Colby said she the presentation was informative and positive.
"I see more can be done to improve the quality of life and decrease the amount we spend on health care," she said.