Socorro Hernandez's three children are all avid athletes. But when the air quality in Fresno, CA is bad—as it often is—her 10-year-old twins, both soccer lovers with asthma, and her 16-year-old football player are forced indoors even though they'd rather be at practice.
Nearly one in four children in the town suffers from asthma.
(Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)
"Air pollution is preventing my kids from fully enjoying their youth," says Hernandez. "Instead of running and playing with their friends every day, bad air is forcing them inside and in front of the TV. I want cleaner air for them so they can do the things they love without having to worry about their health."
That's why Hernandez and her kids are taking the train today from Fresno to Sacramento—a three-hour trip—to testify at a public hearing being held by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on fine particle pollution, commonly called soot. Hernandez, a member of Latinos United for Clean Air (LUCA), is joining a diverse group of families, doctors, community leaders and public health advocates from across the state to call for the strongest possible limits on this deadly air pollutant.
Soot pollution sickens and kills tens of thousands of Californians every year. The top five most polluted U.S. cities for both year-round and short-term particle pollution are all in California—Hernandez's home, Fresno, is on both lists. But by issuing stronger limits on this known killer, the EPA could reduce asthma and heart attacks, strokes, hospital visits and prevent more than 8,000 premature deaths in California alone.
"California's Central Valley is ground zero for fine particle pollution," says Kevin Hall, Director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, who also traveled to testify at the public hearing. "We are inundated with this deadly stuff on a daily basis—if the hearings had been held in Fresno or Bakersfield, the room would be packed with residents who are sick of breathing soot. The EPA should have acted to clean this problem up a long time ago, which is why we made the trip to advocate for the most protective standards to provide relief that's been a long time coming."
The major sources of soot in California are industrial agricultural operations, diesel exhaust and wood burning. Nationwide, coal plants and other major industrial processes are additional significant sources.
"Soot pollution harms the most vulnerable among us—our kids, the elderly, people with lung and heart disease, and families living in poverty," said Dr. Harry Wang, president of the Sacramento chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. "They've faced dangerous levels of soot in the air for far too long—it's time for the EPA to ensure we get safer air. Since nobody makes it through a day without breathing, everybody will benefit if the EPA takes strong action."
Both short-term (daily) and long-term (annual) exposure to soot can cause health problems. As a result, the EPA is required to set a combination standard to protect the public against both exposure types. Sick of Soot, a report issued last year by the American Lung Association, Clean Air Task Force and Earthjustice, found that if the EPA sets the final annual standard at 11 micrograms of soot per cubic meter of air and the daily standard at 25 micrograms of soot per cubic meter of air, Americans will be spared every year from as many as:
- 35,700 premature deaths;
- 2,350 heart attacks;
- 23,290 visits to the hospital and emergency room;
- 29,800 cases of acute bronchitis;
- 1.4 million cases of aggravated asthma; and
- 2.7 million days of missed work or school due to air pollution-caused ailments.
This standard is significantly stronger than what the EPA proposed, but it is the course of action that science, medicine and the law demand.
The EPA was directed by a federal judge to stop its foot-dragging and release a proposal by mid-June 2012, the result of a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the American Lung Association and National Parks Conservation Association. Under a settlement agreement reached with the groups, the EPA has agreed to issue a final standard by December 14, 2012.
The public hearing is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the California Air Resources Board building, located at 1001 "I" Street in downtown Sacramento. There will also be a rally and media event at 12:30 p.m. in Cesar Chavez Plaza Park across the street.