California’s San Joaquin Valley Produces Agriculture and Air Pollution


The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) launched a web tool last week that lets users see how their state is being impacted by climate change. NRDC’s tool shows that climate change will only worsen the air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley of California.

As the agricultural center of the world, it is rather scary to think that a polluted region is supplying the nation with produce, meat, dairy and cotton. If you doubt that the San Joaquin Valley supplies a good deal of the nation’s food, go to your local grocery store. Head to the produce section, and look at the boxes that hold the fruits and vegetables. Much of it will have California stamped somewhere on the box, and the chances are great it came from the Valley.

If you have ever eaten raisins, then you have a link to the San Joaquin Valley. Almost all of the raisins in the U.S. (99.5 percent) are produced within a 100 mile radius of Fresno, smack dab in the middle of the Valley. About 40 percent of the world’s raisins come from the Fresno area.

California ranks number one in the U.S. for cheese production, and much of the cheese is made in the San Joaquin Valley. California also ranks number one in the U.S. for cotton production, and almost all of the cotton is produced in the San Joaquin Valley.

Photo: Wikipedia user, Decumanus

How bad is pollution in the Valley? The Valley has one of the worst air basins in the country, along with Los Angeles, as the American Lung Association’s (ALA) State of the Air 2011 report shows. Bakersfield, a city in the Southern San Joaquin Valley, ranks number two in all three State of the Air 2011 categories: ozone, year-round particle pollution and short term particle pollution. Other major Valley cities and counties are on all three lists.

Six Valley cities are listed among 25 of the worst cities for ozone pollution and seven out of the Valley’s eight counties are listed among the 25 worst counties for ozone. All but one of the Valley’s counties are listed for short-term particle pollution and five Valley cities are listed among the worst 24 cities for year-round particle pollution, as are the majority of its counties.

What are the sources of the Valley’s pollution? A 2004 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) lists agriculture (including agricultural burning) and heavy duty diesel trucks and buses as sources of pollution. Highway 99 runs through the Valley and is a major corridor in the state for transporting goods. Agricultural burning (such as burning the grape trays that grapes dry on to become raisins) is still an all-too-common practice in the Valley. It must be added, though, that a viable (cost effective) alternative to agricultural burning has not been created for farmers, and the majority of the Valley’s farms are family owned. Farmers are just trying to survive.

Lawsuit aims to force EPA to make Valley comply with the ozone standard

Earthjusice, a public interest law firm based in the Bay Area, filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Northern California against the EPA for not addressing the Valley’s failure to meet the national ozone standard. A press release says that the lawsuit “aims to force the EPA to adopt a plan to bring air quality in the Valley into compliance with the national ozone standard.” The lawsuit demands that the EPA enforce the same smog regulations that it does in the Los Angeles air basin.

The Clean Air Act requires regions to meet the national one-hour standard for ozone by November 15, 2010, which limits the maximum concentration of ozone residents can be exposed to over a one-hour period. The San Joaquin Valley did not meet that standard, monitoring data from last year showed.

After the Valley did not meet the deadline, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, the Sierra Club and other community groups petitioned the EPA asking for an official finding that the Valley’s plan to meet the one-hour ozone standard failed.

“The government air agencies have had over 20 years to clean up the San Joaquin Valley’s extreme ozone pollution but they have missed one deadline after another,” said Earthjustice attorney Erin Tobin. “EPA cannot ignore the public health crisis caused by ozone pollution in the Valley any longer. It is time for EPA to act.”

Kevin Hamilton, a registered respiratory therapist and founder of the group Medical Advocates for Healthy Air of Fresno, said “Valley doctors and their patients are tired of waiting for political appointees to obey the law and clean up our air. Finish what you started! Clean the air!”

Related Stories:

New Map Shows Climate Change Health Threat In Your State

The Deep Differences On Environment Among California Regions

Success! EPA Announces Strong Clean Air Rule

Photo credit: ML42


Ruth R.
Ruth R6 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Ronald N.
Ronald N6 years ago

We also have the main corridors of the I-5 that runs through the West side of the San Joaquin Valley as well as the Hwy 99 that runs through much of the Valley from Sacramento to Bakersfield. I-5 Truly is a corridor that connects all known cities including the areas of greatest population and the main hubs that connect to all the Valley's towns and cities. If Bay Area people want to go to LA or visa versa, it is the logical move of these city dwellers to drive the I-5 corridor. This is truly the one main source of vehicle pollution. The culprit is not the ag industry in whole. Yet the politics points the finger at ag in such a way to make it seem exaggerated. I truly think if the pollution politics can be figured out, it will have to be in changing our system away from fossil fuels in automobiles. If we see further advances in power transfer in sophisticated forms of electrical energy that would be fine. But as we are in a recession and an economic meltdown, who can even conceive of all this wealth to superstructures of high speed rail when the only source of moving goods have been with old diesel trucks and rail. My belief is we must do what we can in changing it, and it will be probably a slow process. I believe for the present biomass fuel and alternatives abound. Let's not get into a regional blame of why the Valley is polluted. There is enough blame to go around, but it's not that simple when those who are pointing the finger, themselves, drive in cars that burn fossi

sandra m.
Past Member 6 years ago


Sameer Tendulkar
Sameer Tendulkar6 years ago


Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

The answers are simple. They know how to clean up the air so get it done and one way is to get trains to replace the trucks.

roseanne d.
roseanne d6 years ago


David N.
David N6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Kory M.
Kory M6 years ago

San Bernadino is Ground Zero for Brown Air. It is so bad , You can Smell, See it a foot infront of You and sadly, taste it too. You can't see the Mountain's that are just a few Hundred Yard's in front of You, on most Days.

Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago


Chris Ray
Chris R6 years ago

Bad times. Thanks Gina-Marie.