By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
TULARE COUNTY – Tulare County is one of the most polluted areas in the country despite improvements in air quality in the last 20 years. Bakersfield slightly edged out Tulare County for first on the list. Fresno and Los Angeles were also in the running.
As part of the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report, the Visalia metropolitan statistical area, which includes all of Tulare County, ranked second for high ozone days out of 228 metropolitan areas, and ranked fourth for annual particulate pollution of 203 areas. The Visalia area also ranked twelfth for 24-hour particle pollution of 217 areas.
That doesn’t mean things aren’t getting better. Tulare County received a grade of F for its high ozone days but has seen the number of high ozone days fall by 46 days to 101 since 1996. The American Lung Association (ALA) only gives areas with fewer than 4 high ozone days a passing grade.
Tulare County also received a failing grade for average annual particle pollution as it is consistently higher than ALA’s threshold of 12 micrograms per cubic meter per day. However, Tulare County efforts have reduced the average daily concentration from 23.2 to 15.7 micrograms per cubic meter. Tulare County is also inching closer to the ALA’s threshold for high particle pollution days. The county’s average over the last two decades is 8.3 days, a little more than double the threshold. That number would be dramatically lower if you just looked at the last 10 years. Since 2009, Tulare County has not seen a year with more than 13 high concentration days, down from 25 in 2000.
The groups most at-risk from poor air quality are those with cardio-pulmonary issues, such as asthma, COPD, lung cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. According to ALA, about 7% of Tulare County’s population has asthma, 3% has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), 4% has heart disease, 6% has diabetes, and just 193 people have lung cancer. These issues tend to affect children and senior citizens as well as low income residents.
Tulare County is not alone. Kern County ranked third in high ozone days at 99, second in average daily particle pollution with 17.3 micrograms per cubic meter, and topped the nation in the number of high particle pollution days with 34. Fresno-Madera-Kings Counties as a whole, ranked fourth in high ozone days, second in high particle pollution days, and topped the nation is average daily particle pollution.
Nearly 20.2 million people (6.2 percent) live in 12 counties with unhealthful levels of all three: ozone and short-term and year-round particle pollution in 2015-2017. The difference in this year’s and the 2018 report’s estimate of 7.7 million exposed to unhealthy levels for all three measures also comes largely because of the missing data from two California counties – Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County.
A better comparison would be the 2017 report, which covered 2013-2015, when both California counties reported data. That year’s report found an additional 2.1 million people lived in counties in 2015-2017 with unhealthy air for all three measures than the 18 million people reported in the 2017 report.
More than four in 10 people (43.3 percent) in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Nearly 141.1 million Americans live in 244 counties where they breathe unhealthful levels of air pollution in the form of either ozone or short-term or year-round levels of particles.
More people suffered unhealthy air in this year’s report covering 2015-2017, than in the years covered by the 2018 report (2014-2016) when the total was 133.9 million and more than in the 2017 report (2013-2015), when the total was only 125 million. Fortunately, these are still far below the 166 million in the years covered in the 2016 report (2012-2014).
One big reason is climate change. Warmer weather, different rain patterns create continued challenges to long-term progress in reducing harmful air pollution under the Clean Air Act.
More than four in 10 (41.1 percent) of the people in the United States live in areas with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution. More than 134.0 million people live in 197 counties that earned an F for ozone in this year’s report, significantly more than the approximately 128.9 million people who lived in counties earning an F in 2014-2016, the period covered in last year’s report.
Nearly one in six people (15.2 percent) in the United States—more than 49.6 million—live in an area with too many days with unhealthful levels of particle pollution. More people experienced those unhealthy spikes than in the last two reports. In the 2018 report, approximately 35.1 million people and in the 2017 report, approximately 43 million people experienced too many unhealthy days.