According to the American Lung Association, San Joaquin County misses the mark when it comes to clean air.
The association recently released its 2017 State of the Air Report and gave San Joaquin County an F for both ozone pollution and particle pollution, and the Stockton Metropolitan area ranked in the Top 10 dirtiest regions in the country.
“This report comes out every year and we appreciate that it brings to light air quality issues in the valley, but it doesn’t do any justice to or tell the story of our air quality progress in the Valley,” San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Representative Heather Heinks said. “They basically have parameters that they evaluate every year and assign these grades to cities across California and we could fail and so could what we would consider a pristine area like Santa Barbara County. It goes to show that it’s interesting what parameters make up their report, and it’s a fairly narrow A to F grading system that weighs a very complex issue that we’ve been working on for two and a half decades.”
According to the American Lung Association, its report is based on air quality monitoring data collected from 2013 to 2015, the most recent years available. The report focuses on ozone and particle pollution, as they are the most widespread forms of air pollution threatening public health.
All eight San Joaquin Valley counties earned a failing grade for each of the three pollution sources tracked in the report.
Heinks said the district puts a lot of effort into educating the public about the significant progress that is being made to reduce pollution, noting that in the last 20 years billions of dollars have been invested to combat the issue.
“Some of the factors they consider aren’t exactly the picture that we need to paint. For example, the main pollutants you’ll see listed there that we deal with in the San Joaquin Valley are ozone and particulate matter pollution, and those are considered what’s called criteria pollutants,” Heinks said. “We are not in attainment, which means we have not reduced the level of pollution in our valley to the point where the government says it’s acceptable for public health.”
According to Heinks, the district is a public health agency that creates and oversees rules that apply to all of the stationary sources of pollution in the valley. She said the California Air Resources Board manages the rules that apply to mobile sources of pollution which makes it difficult for them because 85 percent of the pollution that is left to tackle is coming for mobile sources.
“It’s an uphill challenge for us because we don’t make those rules, we only sanction rules in the industrial, agricultural and business sources across the valley,” she said. “ We’ve exhausted two and a half decades worth of effort reducing from those sources and we’ve made significant progress. But where we still have a lot more to gain is from the rules we don’t control.”
Heinks said the district tries to prevent the valley from being penalized for some of the sources of pollution that it has no regulatory authority over.
“We spend a lot of time at the state and federal level in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., working with legislators to help us get more teeth in the process to ratchet down those mobile sources,” she said.
Heinks said the district has secured state and federal funding to give over $200 million back to the public in the San Joaquin Valley. The money has helped farmers get improved tractors and incentivized residents to purchase electric vehicles or lawn mowers and to trade in old fire places for clean burning devices. The funds are also used to help businesses install the necessary technology to reduce their emission footprint.
Heinks encourages San Joaquin Valley residents to visit valleyair.org to see how they can reduce their pollution foot print. She said both ozone and particulate matter pollution have long-term and short-term effects on an individual’s health.
“We often talk about sensitive groups like young children, older adults or individuals that have respiratory issues and how just the simple levels of pollution that we experience day to day reduce their ability to be outside and function normally in the valley,” Heinks said. “That in and of itself is why we’re working so hard to reduce the sources of pollution.”
She said they public needs to understand that the valley is not the dirtiest place in California.
“We live in a valley like a bowl surrounded by mountains that essentially could be the sides of the bowl and the lid to that bowel is often provided by meteorology and an inversion layer,” Heinks said. “That means if the high pressure system is hanging out over the Central Valley, any pollution that is being produced is trapped. It’s staying with us. It’s like letting a small fire stay in your garage and shutting your windows and doors and as it burns you see how the smoke gets more dense in the empty small space you’re in. On a larger scale, pollution gets dense in the San Joaquin Valley.”
Heinks said Southern California and the Bay Area have far more pollution than the San Joaquin Valley, but they have more ways to disperse that pollution.