FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – If you live on the south side of Fresno, you are likely exposed to multiple sources of air pollution that can harm your health — and the hot summer days can increase the risk.

Frequent coughing and congestion, chronic illnesses like asthma, and even premature death are associated with the kind of air pollution residents are regularly exposed to in Fresno, south of Highway 180, and in Calwa and Malaga. Children, seniors, and people with respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses are especially at risk.

“It’s getting worse every year with this heat, and pollution is not getting any better,” said Malik Baz, head doctor at Baz Allergy, Asthma, and Sinus Centers. Most of his patients are from south Fresno, he said.

There are things you can do to reduce the risk of irritation and damage to your and your family’s lungs. You can sign up to receive air quality alerts or check the air quality before going outside. When the air is bad, limit physical activity or stay indoors with the windows closed and turn on an air filter. To improve indoor air quality, consider removing carpets and drapes, and never smoke inside.

Keeping an eye on air quality in your community is an important tool for managing asthma and other health issues.

“I’m not sure parents really understand how closely linked air quality and asthma are,” said Carmela Sosa, a complex care pediatrician at Valley Children’s Hospital.

Asthma is common in the San Joaquin Valley, and it may be mistaken for allergies. If you or someone experiences frequent coughing or wheezing, consider seeing a doctor to find out if there is a more serious problem and if treatment is available. If your child is struggling to breathe, get them to a hospital.

WHY IS THE AIR QUALITY BAD IN SOUTH FRESNO?

While Fresno has some of the worst air quality in the country, residents in south Fresno, Calwa, and Malaga are particularly at risk for harmful health effects because of regular exposure to nearby sources of pollution. The area is disproportionately impacted by air pollution, according to the San Joaquin Valley Air District. Traffic on nearby freeways, heavy diesel truck traffic next to homes and schools, multiple industrial facilities, and dust from agriculture processing facilities all contribute to harmful air pollution like particulate matter and ozone.

A lack of vegetation and trees in these neighborhoods contributes to the problem, and high heat traps air pollution like ozone close to the ground. That’s why summer can increase the risk of health effects from ozone.

This community “has a high cumulative air pollution exposure burden,” according to the California Air Resources Control Board. Screenshot San Joaquin Valley Air District

WHAT ARE THE HEALTH RISKS OF LIVING IN BAD AIR QUALITY?

Particulate matter — or PM for short — contains tiny particles in the air that can be inhaled deep into the lungs and can damage your respiratory system. Constant exposure to this kind of air pollution in your community “does end up leading to long-term problems in the lungs and in the heart,” said Tania Pacheco-Werner, a health researcher and co-director of Central Valley Health Policy Institute. “We’ve seen that children and the elderly end up sort of bearing the brunt of the effects of this type of exposure.”

Children have a higher risk of health effects because they are active outside for longer periods of time than most adults and because their lungs are still developing.

Exposure to increased particulate matter correlates with an increase in asthma attacks, bronchitis, chronic cough and even heart attacks. Some research found PM exposure makes allergy symptoms worse. Exposure to air pollution can even affect lung development in babies.

Ground-level ozone happens when pollution from cars, trucks and industrial facilities chemically reacts in sunlight. It’s often worse in urban areas on hot days, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Unhealthy levels of ozone can irritate the throat, damage the airways, make lungs more susceptible to infection and increase symptoms from lung diseases like asthma.

A multi-year study of children with asthma in Fresno found that pollution from traffic emissions was associated with increased symptoms, like wheezing.

Diesel truck emissions are another concern. Heavy-duty diesel trucks emit toxic air pollution that can cause increased risk of cancer and respiratory illness in nearby neighborhoods, according to Tim Tyner, an environmental health researcher and co-executive director of the Central California Asthma Collaborative.. Exposure is also correlated to preterm birth and emergency room visits and hospitalizations for asthma.

“It’s about that long term exposure… not just that you pass by trucks every once in a while,” Pacheco-Werner said. “It’s that idea of day in and day out, all of your daily activity being connected to an area where these types of concentrations seem to be higher than in other places, and that there’s not much around to protect you from that.”

HOW TO KNOW WHEN THE AIR QUALITY IS GOOD

When you see a thick haze on the horizon, that means there is air pollution in the air you are breathing. If it smells dusty or smoky outside, the air quality might not be healthy. Air quality monitors in your community help report how good or bad the air is at that moment to help you make informed decisions for you and your family’s health.

Here are some options:

  • Check the air quality in your neighborhood right now using the Purple Air Monitor map available here.
  • Use your smartphone to check your weather app, or search “Calwa air quality” to see quick and immediate air quality conditions.
  • Sign up to receive text message or email alerts about air quality using the San Joaquin Valley Air District’s advisory network.