Doctor diagnoses, offers Rx regarding unhealthful Fresno air

If you want to know what air-polluted living is like, just ask any one of the thousands of Fresnans suffering with asthma. Or, if not that, you could ask Fresno, California-area pulmonologist and critical-care physician Dr. Michael Peterson. In fact, you don’t even have to do that: you could just read his May 8, 2014 “Fresno needs a new path to better health” editorial in The Fresno Bee to get a good idea.

So, what is it Peterson wants readers to understand? Here is just some of what the good doctor shared.

“Year after year, the Fresno area hovers near the top of the rankings when it comes to bad air. In this year’s American Lung Association State of the Air report, Fresno tops the list of worst polluted areas in the country for particle pollution or soot, measured both on a short-term and annual basis. Fresno is also ranked the fourth-worst area in the country for ozone pollution. So, it’s no surprise that we also have high rates of pollution-related disease; for example, more than 21% of Fresno County children – and more than 17% of adults – suffer from asthma.”

Tell me about it!

Peterson did just that and then some. He spelled out in no uncertain terms that the community has a chance to make some real headway in the fight to clean area air leading to marked quality-of-life improvement for residents of Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley (Valley). “We can invest first in our downtowns and existing neighborhoods and encourage healthier transportation choices. We can link more places where people live to where they work, go to school and play, with public transportation and biking and walking trails.”

The $64 million question: Will we?

The following two seemingly at-odds views, could provide a clue in terms of what could be anticipated moving forward.

Brian P. Kelly and Mary D. Nichols in a Los Angeles Times opinion piece earlier this year in January, concur: “… The city of Fresno, for example, has approved a land-use plan that directs growth to infill and denser development in the city core, while barring expansion into prime farmland on the city’s outskirts.”

In case you don’t know, Kelly is California Transportation Secretary and Nichols is California Air Resources Board Chairman.

Meanwhile, Peterson in the Bee op-ed opined: “So far, indications are that the board of the Fresno Council of Governments (COG) is repeating past sprawl-oriented planning decisions instead of focusing more heavily on renewal of existing neighborhoods through infill growth patterns that support walking, biking and transit,” and cautioned, “Choosing a business-as-usual path would mean more air pollution, more illness and premature death, and millions of dollars lost every year to medical expenses and days lost from school and work.”

The most difficult part in achieving the goal of clean air and improved quality of life is getting everyone on the same page and on board, and in working in unison and not being at odds with one another. Though, history being an indication, we will have our work cut out.

No question the message of Peterson’s commentary is blunt. But, it is his “diagnosis of the symptoms” as in: “Fresno’s top ranking in the American Lung Association’s report as having the highest levels of pollution,” and his “prescription” as in: “is a reminder that we must do more to protect public health. City and county leaders can set a course, starting now,” that there will be found a cure.

Time will tell and conditions shall reveal if Fresno and the Valley follow doctor’s orders and get this right.