Valley air quality scoring system first-of-its-kind

FRESNO, Calif.

State officials are using air quality and social economic factors to rank communities. Some community activists say this scoring system will re-affirm the air quality issues many people in West Fresno have been critical of.

The Central Valley is home to some of the poorest air in the nation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And health advocates say bad air quality can impact quality of life.

Heather Heinks with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District said, "Certainly those that live near a freeway are probably going to be exposed to more of those emissions coming off the tail pipes of those cars that say somebody that lives in a rural setting without those emissions nearby."

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District expects several Valley communities to rank as the most environmentally burdened areas. West Fresno is expected to rank close to the top.

Heinks explained, "The area in West Fresno does have industry that's in the area, it has Ag that's in the area, has several things in the area that are a bit unique and a little bit more challenging to handle as far as quality of life and air quality."

The pollution coming from the rendering plant in Southwest Fresno has been of concern to many residents that live nearby.

Mary Curry said, "It's been a nuisance to our community. People can't enjoy the outdoors and the children can't enjoy being in the backyards having a barbeque, or whatever they choose to do."

Curry is part of the Concerned Citizens of West Fresno. The group was formed in 2005 to tackle socio-economic issues in the area.

"The asthma rate is much higher in West Fresno than any part of the city," added Curry.

By exposing the health risks of each community, the state's environmental justice screening tool hopes to rectify some of the problems. Heinks said, "This should change the way we approach this resolving the issue and let economic vitality and job creation and specific funding support that area so we can bring it around and get ahead of the curb."

State officials with the EPA say they are gathering their findings to identify the communities at highest health risks. The purpose they say is to allocate more funding to these communities. The final report will be released next month.

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