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Record air pollution hammers California's heartland

  • FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2011 photo, a stretch of the Calif. State Route 99 corridor in the San Joaquin Valley is shown busy with traffic in Fresno, Calif. This is the time of year when residents of the valley with the nation's worst pollution often can draw a breath of fresh air. But this winter has not been kind to people who want to play outside in California's Central Valley. (AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

FRESNO — This is the time of year when residents who often live with the nation's worst pollution often can draw a breath of fresh air. But this winter has not been kind to people who want to play outside in California's Central Valley.

A dry December and January has stagnated air across California, but nowhere is the situation more serious than between Modesto and Bakersfield, where nearly every day dirty air has exceeded federal health standards.

It's the worst air quality recorded in a dozen years, and it's the unhealthiest kind— microscopic, chemical-laden particles that can get into lungs and absorbed into the bloodstream to create health risks in everyone, not just the young and infirm.

The southern San Joaquin half of the valley stretches 200 miles from Stockton to Bakersfield and is home to 4 million people. It traditionally records the highest level of particulate matter and ozone pollution in the United States and has a rate of asthma three times the national average, according to the American Lung Association.

Air quality advocates have argued for years that the local air district's focus on fireplace burn bans ignores other major sources of industrial pollution, such as dairies, feed lots and oil rigs. "The air board's strategy is failing," said Kevin Hall, executive director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition.


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