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Pollution Is the Valley's Silent Killer

Vida En El Valle, News Report, Staff Posted: Nov 20, 2008

SACRAMENTO -- More than 800 people have died in the San Joaquín Valley in the last few years due to the high level of pollution here. In addition to the loss of life, pollution has cost the state more than $6.3 billion dollars in medical expenses.

These figures were presented last week in a report titled 'The Economic Benefits of Achieving Standard Federal Air Quality in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.'

"This is a very serious situation," said Jane V. Hall, one of the authors of the study. "More deaths are caused in San Joaquín County by poor air quality than by accidents on the roads."

The study's authors hope to raise awareness of the situation so that politicians will draft laws and policies to help improve air quality.

"The intention is that politicians, in particular, are made aware of these figures so they can act on them, using state and federal funds to keep fighting pollution," Hall said.

Víctor Brajer, another of the study's authors, said the figures presented in the new report are more critical than those announced two years ago in a previous report.

"Not only we have seen a significant increase in the number of people exposed to large amounts of chemicals, but also that these people are dying. It is urgent that measures be taken now, before the situation deteriorates further," Brajer said.

The report indicates that San Joaquín Valley residents are mostly exposed to elements in the microscopic spectra called PM-2.5, coming from a large number of pollutants such as diesel engines and chimneys.

"The worst thing is that in this valley 100 percent of the residents are exposed to this type of particles at any time throughout the year," said Hall.

According to the survey, last year Fresno had 75 days with a high percentage of PM-2.5, while Bakersfield had 68 and Visalia 64. In Modesto, there were 39 bad days but the city is considered one of the worst in the state regarding this type of pollution.

Although the situation is critical for everyone, Latinos are the most severely impacted because many work in the fields, the source of much of the pollution.

"The Latino community is the most affected because they have the least access to education about the environment. By not knowing the information, such as regulations or chemical contaminants, they are exposed directly to them," said José Antonio Ramírez, chair of the Fresno Council of Government.
He added that there are few regulations to combat this problem, so it is up to politicians to create proposals to help resolve the problem.

The results of this report came as no surprise to Rey León, director of Latino Environmental Advance and Policy (LEAP). León said his group has long known about the serious problem of pollution in the San Joaquín Valley and the little attention that authorities have paid.

"We have always known that we in the San Joaquín Valley have the highest rates of asthma and all sorts of diseases related to lungs, the important thing is to find solutions to the problem and they should come particularly from politicians," said León.

In fact, the report also indicates that the San Joaquín Valley has the highest rate in the number of cases of heart attack caused by poor air quality, this type of disease is mainly caused by particulates PM-2.5.

Nidia Bautista, director of community relations for the Coalition for Clean Air, said that a high percentage of Latinos in the area do not have medical insurance which leading them to that end in emergency rooms, which makes the state and county to invest millions in amounts of resources to provide medical care.

"All this could be avoided if they create laws and regulations for the handling of chemicals, the problem is that whenever the government downplayed the situation. If we want economic progress but also the welfare of health, so we can all work together," Bautista said.

Among the regulations, León and Baptist are proposing to ban the entry of more polluting companies, use fewer diesel, especially in railways and reduce the transportation of trucks on Highway 99, which is one of the largest sources of pollution in areas as the city of Fresno.

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