Valley Air Board Fails to Warn Public of Health Risks, Impacts

  • WHO: Central Valley Air Quality Coalition
  • WHAT: Media Availability
  • WHERE: Fresno – CVAQ office, 1316 E. Olive (southwest corner of Olive and San Pablo, Fresno)
    Wasco – Contact Tom Frantz, 661-910-7734
  • WHEN: 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm Monday, October 3, 2011

FRESNO – According to the San Joaquin Valley Air Board, it was an orange flag day in Fresno County last Thursday, Sept. 29. But as members of a girls’ water polo team entered a Clovis, Calif., pool that afternoon, they knew the air pollution was much worse — “in the purple” as one young athlete later told her mother. So when one of their teammates was stricken with an asthma attack halfway through the match, it came as little surprise. Despite the obvious risks, the game continued.

Across town at Sunnyside High School in southeast Fresno, the Edison and Buchanan junior varsity football teams were warming up as the air pollution climbed high into the “red” zone. When they kicked off on schedule at 4:30 pm the air quality index stood at 200, “in the purple” as the kids across town put it.

With a full month left to go in the ozone season, this year’s 101 bad air days has already topped the 93 violations seen in 2010 and the 98 of 2009, and this year’s numbers would have been even higher if the air board had not agreed to removal of the Arvin-Bear Mountain monitor in December 2010. 

“We’re in the midst of a public health crisis wrapped in deceit,” said Kevin Hall, director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition. “Our air board has been misleading the public with deceptive declarations of progress and a false focus on avoiding federal sanctions. It’s time for the San Joaquin Valley air board to get serious about warning people of the health risks and impacts caused by these very high levels of air pollution. Last week people not only needed to hear ‘don’t drive,’ they needed to hear ‘stay indoors.'”

“By every standard, this has been one of the unhealthiest Septembers in recent years,” said Kern County resident Tom Frantz of the Association of Irritated Residents. “Unfortunately, we’re also seeing high particulate pollution in the mornings. People’s lungs are getting clogged in the mornings by particulates and burned in the afternoons by ozone. The air board should be considering these cumulative impacts during this especially dangerous time of year and calling for extra caution.” 

The Central Valley Air Quality Coalition is also critical of the air board’s daily air quality predictions. For example, on the day of the water polo game the Fresno County air quality prediction for Thursday, Sept. 29, was 150, an orange flag day for schools (see forecast at end). “What the air board failed to point out were the five hours that afternoon when we were in the red and purple range,” said Frantz. “There were afternoons last week in the Fresno/Clovis metropolitan area when all afternoon recesses and sports practices should have been canceled. Why isn’t the air board sounding the alarm?”

MUSICAL VIDEO OVERVIEW Watch this video for snapshots of air pollution monitor readings during the valley’s “purple haze” of bad air days in September. The purple zone equates to 200+ on the air quality index. Get above 100 and you really don’t want to be outside. Each square on the chart represents an hour. Count the hours above 100, 150 and 200 to see days with five or more hours in the red and purple zones.

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The Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, Fresno, Calif., is a partnership of more than 70 community, medical, public health, environmental and environmental justice organizations representing thousands of residents in the San Joaquin Valley unified in their commitment to improve the health of Californians.