Report: Bakersfield, Hanford air worst of the worst

(April 27, 2011)

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April 27, 2011

Bakersfield and Hanford are the only exceptions to a national trend of improving air quality among the 25 cities with the worst soot and dust pollution.

The two cities are identified among the nation's worst-polluted places for both particle pollution and ozone in the annual American Lung Association "State of the Air 2011" report, released today.

The health of 18.5 million people across America is in danger from air pollution, the report says. More than 3.8 million of those people are in the Valley.

For more than a decade, Valley air quality has been routinely graded as an "F" and ranked among the country's worst. The report this year shows little change, except that Bakersfield and Hanford seem to be getting worse while other polluted cities improve.

But the report exaggerates the particle pollution problem in the two cities, say officials with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The report does not explain that specks of pollution spiked in 2008 when thousands of wildfires filled the Valley with smoke and soot.

"If you exclude the wildfires, which we cannot control, we got more improvement than many places," said district executive director Seyed Sadredin. "It's unfortunate because the whole trend is skewed by 2008."

The report is based on air-quality data from 2007, 2008 and 2009, the latest three years of information available. The association analyzed monitor readings and daily air-quality index, which is a health-based air rating that considers such factors as temperature, moisture, wind and pollution levels.

Bakersfield, Fresno, Visalia and Hanford were among the 10 worst areas in the country for both particle pollution and ozone. Merced also was among the worst 10 for ozone.

Bakersfield was ranked worst in the country for short-term particle pollution -- Fresno was second. For ozone, Bakersfield was second to the Los Angeles region. Visalia was third.

Lung Association officials said the air in most American cities is improving. They credited enforcement of the Clean Air Act resulting in tighter standards and more stringent rules over industries.

The improvement must continue to reduce heart and lung problems linked to air pollution, said Norman Edelman, the association's chief medical officer. Recent studies have shown particle pollution, in particular, is more dangerous than health officials have thought.

"Even among healthy adults, short-term exposure to high levels [of particle pollution] carries great risks," he said. "But they are especially dangerous for children" because children spend more time outside and are more active.

Although the association report does not fully explain the 2008 wildfire problem, local air officials say people should read it. Fresno and Bakersfield had some of the best ozone improvement in the country, though both places still rank among the worst.