Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fresno is No. 1 on California's Toxic Hit List

I've blogged Fresno's pollution before, "Menacing Air Quality in California's Central Valley."

But there's a new state pollution study out ranking Fresno as ground zero for environmental danger in the state, and I don't doubt it.

At the Los Angeles Times, "Fresno ranks No. 1 on California pollution list":
FRESNO — The state's new effort to map the areas most at risk from pollution features hot spots up and down California.

But nowhere are there more of the worst-afflicted areas than in Fresno — in particular a 3,000-person tract of the city's west side where diesel exhaust, tainted water, pesticides and poverty conspire to make it No. 1 on California's toxic hit list.

"I'm looking at this map, and all I see is red. We're right here," Daisy Perez, a social worker at the Cecil C. Hinton Community Center, said as she located the center of the red areas that represented the top 10% most-polluted census tracts in California. "It's so sad. Good people live here."

Pollution has long plagued the Central Valley, where agriculture, topography and poverty have thwarted efforts to clean the air and water. The maps released this week by the California Environmental Protection Agency show that eight of the state's 10 census tracts most heavily burdened by pollution are in Fresno.

For residents of the state's worst-scoring area, statistics tell only part of the story of what it is like to live there.

It's a place where agriculture meets industry, crisscrossed by freeways. The city placed its dumps and meat-rendering plants there decades ago.

Historically, it was the heart of the city's African American community. The Central Valley's civil rights movement was centered in its churches. People referred to it as West Fresno, which meant a culture as well as a place.

These days, young community workers call it by its ZIP Code — the "93706 Zone."

It's home to a Latino community — the children and grandchildren of migrant workers; to Hmong and Cambodian farmers; and to a minority African American community that includes those desperate to leave, and an old guard of those who say they will never abandon home.

"The voice of the community is still black. Because we're the ones who now have the wherewithal and time to speak," said Jim Aldredge, who took over running the community center when the city cut its budget. "Look, when you're just trying to survive, you don't have time to go before City Council and all that. Pollution data is the farthest thing from your mind when you're looking for your next meal."