Farmers have until Year's End to Turn in Plans to
Clean the Air
December 27, 2004 — By Juliana Barbassa,
FRESNO, Calif. —
The Central Valley's dairy, cotton, fruit and
vegetable farms are the newest front in the fight to
clean up one of the nation's dirtiest air basins.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control
District is requiring large-scale farmers to submit
plans by the end of the year showing what they're
doing to reduce the microscopic particles of dust,
chemicals or other substances that come from their
Farmers with more than 100 contiguous acres and
dairies with more than 500 cows meet the
requirements to participate in the plan; that
translates into more than 6,400 farms and dairies in
the 270-mile-long valley between San Francisco and
The farmers can choose from dozens of dust-fighting
options. They include measures many already
practice, such as watering unpaved roads, switching
to organic farming and working at night when winds
Environmental activists lauded the new requirements,
saying it was about time farmers joined local
governments and other industries in controlling
dust. But critics said the requirement asks for too
little and gives farmers too much room to count
measures they already were taking as part of their
Despite the concerns, more than two-thirds of
farmers with enough land or cows to fall under the
new rules had complied and submitted their two-year
plans by early December, said Rick McVaigh, the
regional air board's permit services manager.
Health advocates said asking farmers to do their
part is an important step in addressing the region's
pollution problem. Farms raise 51 percent of the
tiny specks of dust that help give the valley one of
the nation's highest asthma rates.
Farmer John Pucheu said the requirement has raised
farmers' awareness of the need to keep dust down.
Like many farmers, however, he said the air among
the cotton fields where he lives feels a lot cleaner
to him than what he sees when he goes into Fresno,
the valley's largest city.
"In these urban areas, you have hundreds of
thousands of cars," said Pucheu, who farms 3,500
acres in the west Fresno County town of Tranquillity.
"Out here, most days the fields are just sitting
The latest cleanup plan proposes reducing
particulate pollution by 23 percent, or 34 tons a
day, by 2010. To date, the region has missed a
series of federal deadlines to reduce pollution --
and residents in the area are paying for it with the
nation's highest asthma rate.
Medical research has shown that the particles that
concern the air regulators and health workers --
called PM10 because they are under 10 micrometers,
or one-seventh of a human hair in width -- can lead
to chronic respiratory problems.
According to the American Lung Association, the
tiniest particles -- those smaller than 2.5
micrometers -- can lodge themselves deep inside lung
tissue. They have been linked to heart attacks,
strokes and a shorter life expectancy.
The particles can consist of diesel exhaust, soot,
ash and organic compounds from dairies such as
ammonia, in addition to the dust that can rise from
fields during harvest or tilling.
"No one likes to get regulated," said Josette Merced
Bello, chief executive officer of the American Lung
Association of Central California. "Ag is not the
only source, and this is not the only solution. But
it's important for everyone to get involved."
Source: Associated Press
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