Data shows in Fresno, 94% of Black people in areas at high risk for illness from toxic pollutants

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- We're enjoying a breath of fresh air Wednesday after days of smoke filled skies.

Two wildfires in Tulare County, only adding to air quality issues in the Central Valley.

But some Fresno residents rarely get truly clean air.

Data shows people of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods deemed at the highest risk for respiratory illnesses, caused by toxic pollutants.

Here at ABC30, we know the importance of using data to examine issues in our local communities and the effort to find solutions.

That includes disparities when it comes to air quality impacts.

Our data journalists crunched the numbers of the 100 largest metro areas in the U.S.

Two-thirds of those cities showed a racial disparity in the respiratory risk posed by air pollution, showing people of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods bad for your health. That includes Fresno, but local groups are taking action to change that.

The Southwest Fresno Area is filled with homes and apartments full of families.

But it's also filled with commercial and industrial properties.

"There are a lot of industrial sites that unfortunately produce a lot of pollution and toxin into the air quality," said Destiny Rodriguez, the Regional Community Relations Manager for The Climate Center.

The Climate Center is a nonprofit trying to rapidly reduce climate pollution.

With a trucking corridor nearby, Rodriguez said the people living in Southwest Fresno are also exposed to emissions from those big rigs.

"There's a lot of toxins that are put into the air quality and because of that there are a lot of health impacts," said Rodriguez.

Physician assistant Kalila Banks has seen those health impacts directly.

She is the Director of School Based Health Care for Clinica Sierra Vista at the Gaston Middle School Clinic.

"We see patients all the way from like infants who are having, what we then call, reactive airway disease to all the way up to older adults who have had life-long issues with asthma symptoms," Banks said.

ABC30's data journalism team analyzed 2014 EPA numbers, the most recent available, as part of the Equity Report.

It found 94% of Black people in Fresno live in the highest risk areas compared to 74% of white people.

The most impacted areas were around the Yosemite and Sierra Freeways.

"When the air quality is poor, especially right now with the fire issues and particulate matter in the air, it just exacerbates the issues that we already have here in the valley," Banks said.

Local groups have spoken out about the health risk disparities in the past.

The Southwest Fresno Specific Plan was put in place several years ago with the goal of reducing the amount of industrial businesses in the area.

In March of this year, West Fresno leaders gathered to speak out against a rezoning proposal along Elm Avenue.

"We want development in Southwest Fresno that will restore life and vitality to our community and not perpetuate a narrative where our life expectancy is significantly less than people who live and work in other parts of our great city," said Pastor B.T. Lewis in March.

The group is still working to stop the rezoning in the area.

Rodriguez said we need statewide policies in place to help support change on the ground level.

"They can't afford to move, this is their home. We have to do something about it. The city, the county, the state, everyone needs to be involved so that we can better serve these communities because they are being impacted financially, health wise and in so many ways on a daily basis," Rodriguez said.

This report is part of a larger data-driven tool created by ABC owned television stations called "The Equity Report."

It recently launched and aims to foster conversations that lead to more equitable communities.

For more information, click here.

The report measures racial equity in neighborhoods across 100 of the largest US cities, including Fresno.
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