A Los Angeles Times story on Thursday that Fresno has some of the most polluted neighborhoods in California, and actually ranks No. 1 on a state list of polluted cities seems a little surprising. Fresno is a city of trees and water features, of parks and wide boulevards. Its traffic, while as busy as that of any city of a half-million and more, isn’t unusually heavy.
But the measurements being used by the state are sophisticated, and pollution can be identified down to particular neighborhoods, especially west of State Route 99 and south of State Route 180. In those areas, industries and agriculture meet long-established residential neighborhoods, many of which are characterized by poverty.
Of particular notice is that these areas are hit hard by pesticides, herbicides and dust — all pollution from farming — in wholesale quantities. Pollution sources from industry include disagreeable odors, smoke, noise and vehicle exhaust.
Some in Madera might be tempted to criticize Fresno for its No. 1 ranking, but here’s something we should remember before we do that: Parts of Madera aren’t much better. A swath about five miles wide, reaching from Central Avenue, past where Highway 145 and SR 99 meet, all the way down to Avenue 12, also is seriously polluted.
While the Environmental Impact Index in that area is “only” 44.35 (compared to Fresno’s 62.04), that still is nothing to be proud of. The west side of the city is 25.47, according to the state, but if you head up into the foothills the Environmental Impact Index falls to 17.79.
Madera has less in the way of industry than Fresno, which might explain why Madera’s impact index is some 18 points lower. A lot of the pollution in both Fresno and Madera can be easily explained. First, both are bisected by SR 99, which is busy virtually all the time with truck traffic. Diesel trucks create a lot of pollution, even though trucks are getting cleaner.
And, both cities are affected by large-scale agriculture.
Like it or not, big farms create a lot of pollution. Herbicide and pesticide use, while heavily regulated, nevertheless influences the environments of farm neighbors. And then, there’s the dust.
Finally, we live in a natural bowl into which pollution from cities to the north and west of us is blown. It is said that some 40 percent of our pollution is courtesy of the folks in the Bay Area. It’s a gift that keeps on taking.