“What we have here is a failure to
In the gap between the writing and
publication of this column, the American Lung Association’s 2012 State of the
Air Report will have been issued (www.stateoftheair.org).
I’ll go way out on a limb here and predict straight F’s for the umpteenth year
in a row.
The ALA Web site is the best one around for
quick, easy access to information on the health risks and impacts associated
with living in the dirtiest air basin in the nation. Just enter your zip code
and brace yourself, especially if you open the charts showing trends for ozone
and particle pollution. There, you will see EKG-like flatlines for any sign of
life in making progress toward clean air. In the past few years, the levels for
every key pollutant have bottomed. The patient, it would seem, has died. People
In anticipation of its failing grades, the
Valley Air Board activated its crisis communications staff, which duly issued its
own report, along with other air districts from around the state, the week
before ALA’s report came out. It was a feeble attempt to redirect the
conversation away from health risks to one of “progress toward clean air.”
Or, forewarned is forearmed. That ancient adage captures the communications gap
between the hyper-defensive Valley Air Board and health advocacy organizations
such as the Lung Association.
Advocates not only want real progress but
also want the public to have easy access to information and effective warning
systems. Are you a member of an “at-risk” group? When are you at greatest risk?
You should be able to turn to the air board for quick answers.
However, the Valley Air Board, our region’s
public health agency, is far more concerned with its image than your health.
Don’t take my word for it. Go to its Web site, www.valleyair.org. See what you can learn
about health risks or air pollution’s impacts. Even in its self-promoting
Healthy Air Living section, you will find next to nothing.
Now try www.lung.org
or its sister site www.stateoftheair.org.
There, you can quickly access complete information, including the list of who
is at greatest risk: children and teens; people age 65 and older; people with
asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema; people with cardiovascular disease or
diabetes; and people with low incomes. Of course, far too often we are at all
That’s why failing grades are in order for
the Valley Air Board.
Weather or Not
Two agenda items at April’s board meeting further demonstrated the failure to
communicate. To further its public relations blitz, the board approved a
$900,000 ad agency contract for the coming year and voted to accept a glowing
report on its no-burn fireplace program (yes, glowing). What was strikingly
different in the discussions of the two items was the role weather played and
did not play. In short, when air pollution is bad the weather is to blame; when
air pollution levels drop, albeit temporarily, the weather is not even
In the fireplace no-burn program discussion,
this winter’s La Nina weather pattern was entirely at fault for the high levels
of particle pollution, which in some areas lasted for two weeks or longer
without a break. But when it came to the ad campaign, last year’s mild, breezy
August never happened.
Now, with the arrival of ozone season, only a
minute fraction of the nearly $1 million for billboards, TV commercials, radio
ads and more will be used to warn people of high air pollution episodes. And
then only when it is far above dangerous levels in the summer and not at all
next fall and winter.
“…some men you just can’t reach.”
—Cool Hand Luke
Kevin Hall is director of the Central
Valley Air Quality Coalition based in Fresno, online at www.calcleanair.org and on Facebook. The
CVAQ is a partnership of more than 70 community, medical, public health,
environmental and environmental justice organizations representing thousands of
residents in the San Joaquin Valley unified in their commitment to improve the
health of Californians. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him on Twitter at SJVair.