Southwest Fresno has California’s worst air quality and greatest concentration of disadvantaged neighborhoods. The inspiring story of residents who mobilized to claim the state funds to redress these ills.
When wind pours into San Francisco from the Pacific Ocean, it flows along the city’s famous hills, over the streaming highways that cut north into the peninsula, and then over the water, into the densely populated counties on the inner rim of the bay. Along this course, it picks up exhaust from the Bay Area’s five oil refineries and 6.7 million cars. Then it penetrates inland.
The wind fractures and its current disperses east towards the Sierra Mountains, and south. The current that heads south sweeps along a mess of Bay Area contaminants into another mess of air contaminants hovering up from the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s 1.4 million cars. From there, it dives further south, marching into the wide-open heart of California’s central valley.
Tangerines, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, milk, grapes — chances are, if you like these things, they were harvested in California’s central valley before landing in your kitchen. The wind that started from the Bay Area streams above the flat planes where these crops are cultivated. Then it’s trapped by mountain ranges to the east, west, and south of the valley. That air circulates in a ring around the horizon, mixing with exhaust from the valley’s farm vehicles, dog food processors, poultry plants, and the diesel trucks perennially hauling tons of cargo up and down Interstate 5.
The air sits there. Sometimes for days.
During summer, this emissions cocktail adds to the valley’s nationally outstanding ozone pollution. During winter, bad air particles carried on the wind often fall from the still air and dust the streets of Fresno, the valley’s largest city. Springtime adds pollen from valley farms to the mix. When the wind kicks up again, it rustles the magnolia trees in front of Mary Curry’s house and causes her lungs to fill with phlegm.