Smog more than an eyesore – it’s a wake-up call

On a visit to Sequoia National Park and to Moro Rock in particular once I overheard a man talking to whom I had assumed to be his young daughter, making reference to the blanket of smog off to the west covering the San Joaquin Valley floor. To the trained eye, unmistakable was the grayish-brown haze. However, to a juvenile whose feet were still very, very wet in terms of trying to discern just what the elder that she was standing beside had noticed, the child hadn’t a clue – something much akin to the both of them doing an about-face and then not being able to see the forest for the pine trees standing before them.

I share this highly memorable account for one reason and one reason only: to try to drive home the point that to those who are regularly out and about in smog, as “in-your-face” as murky ozone haze always is, I can’t help but wonder if the lot of those who are, have become oblivious or just accustomed to smog’s presence. It’s as if so-affected peoples were – pardon the expression – in a fog and no longer noticing it. Or could it be that the bulk of society impacted by such neither cares nor maintains hope that a listing deleterious air-quality ship can even be righted. Call it apathy if you must. The new normal this better not become and it won’t if I have a say.

I know for a fact there are people whose lives have been turned upside down by the harsh and unpleasant reality going by the name “air pollution.” And how direful has the situation become?

Half a decade ago The Fresno Bee reported in its “Fighting For Air” special installment that annually in the San Joaquin Valley there is an estimated:

  • 260 hospital admissions
  • 325 new cases of chronic bronchitis
  • 460 premature deaths among people age 30 and older
  • 595 non-fatal heart attacks
  • 3,000 lost work days
  • 23,300 asthma attacks
  • 188,000 days of school absences
  • 3.3 billon dollar annual cost for breathing Valley air1

And in a League of Conservation Voters press release dated Nov. 18, 2011 it is written: “According to the Fresno Bee, ‘More than one in five Valley children has asthma – the highest level in the state. And researchers fear more than one in four children could have the chronic lung disease within the next few years. Fresno County is California’s asthma capital: Nearly one in three – or about 75,000 children – have it, according to a 2005 statewide health survey.’”2

The numbers no doubt are telling, just maybe not telling enough?

It was one Fresno Bee letter writer in addition to a California Progress Report blog commenter whose poignant remarks were published in a related commentary, who perhaps say it best.

Nancy Ellis in her May 30, 2009 “Make a choice to help clean our air by cycling” Fresno Bee letter couldn’t have been clearer. Ellis wrote: “I am ready to change. I can no longer live in denial. It is time for me to give up my car, and become a full-time bicycle commuter. Why? Because I am sick and tired of slowly killing myself and my loved ones in a socially acceptable manner: by car exhaust.”

Ellis wasn’t just spouting off at the mouth. She put her money where her mouth was with relevant supporting facts.

Case in point. Ellis wrote: “In 1990, gasoline and diesel engine exhaust were added to the state of California’s Proposition 65 list of toxic chemicals. Car exhaust is composed of cancer-causing substances like benzene, arsenic compounds, lead compounds and formaldehyde.”

And added: “According to the Coalition for Clean Air, cars and trucks and other mobile air pollution sources account for about 94% of the cancer risk in the greater Los Angeles region.”

Furthermore, in “‘Air Quality is the Key’ to the Central Valley’s Future,” an editorial written by California High Speed Rail Blog site manager Robert Cruickshank, contained in that op-ed was the following, a written response from one commenter to my May 13, 2008 California Progress Report editorial “Clearing the Air in California’s Central Valley.” As cited by Cruickshank here is what that commenter in question had to say:

“Being concerned about what you breath [sic] is the ultimate quality of life issue, and people who can leave some times do. I left due to the lack of any meaningful effort to address the issue. The Great Valley Center was talking about new towns of 80,000 to 100,000 people on the far western side of the valley and I knew AQI [Air Quality Index] was only going to get worse.

“You can defend yourself or at least take some action to limit your exposure to crime, or blight or school quality, or any number of issues in the community, but you can’t take a break from breathing the air.

“I said it at the time to my classmates in Leadership Fresno and here it is again; air quality is the key to nearly every issue in Fresno and the SJV [San Joaquin Valley].”

(Disclaimer: the comment above is no longer available for viewing or reading via the California Progress Report post in question).

Some final thoughts

Valley air pollution isn’t just a sore sight for the eyes. It goes way beyond this.

The bottom line is that dirty air changes lives in ways that are not so becoming. It makes people sick. And, frankly, people should not have to breathe unsightly and unhealthful air pollution.

People residing in the state’s mid-section have apparently become numbed to the presence of such. There is real indifference it seems. That’s the real tragedy. Why the discoloration in the air isn’t more alarming to more people is perplexing. Apparently it is not an important-enough concern or people feel loath to do much about trying to correct it – one of the two. The fact that the effect dirty Valley air is having on heart, lung and respiratory function should be a wake-up call and that it apparently isn’t is an outrage!

I will not rest (or breathe) easy until the air in the San Joaquin Valley and across this great nation of ours is once again clean. However much air pollution there is can be eliminated. But it is the will of the people individually and collectively to want this to happen that this kind of change will come about. Short of this, I’m not going to hold my breath.


  1. Original reporting source for numbers listed from a California State University, Fullerton study by Jane Hall and colleagues Vic Brajer and Fred Lurmann and based on census data for the year 2000.
  2. Mike Palamuso, “LCV LAUNCHES 2ND TV AD SHOWING REP COSTAS VOTES IN WASHINGTON ENDANGER HEALTH OF CALIFORNIANS,” League of Conservation Voters press release, Nov. 18, 2011. (Original reporting source for the quote in question is The Fresno Bee).

– Alan Kandel

This post was last revised on Nov. 28, 2019 @ 1:37 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.