Beset By Unemployment, Fresno Faces Environmental Concerns, Too
B y nearly every economic indicator, Fresno County is mired in a low‐wage economy with a large pool of unskilled, uneducated residents, which leads to a high poverty rate.
This discouraging assessment comes from Amy Chubb, Executive Director of Fresno Works for a Better Health Advocacy Center. Latinos account for half of Fresno County’s population, and air pollution is the issue for Latinos living in California’s Central Valley. For example, 45% of Latinos in California surveyed in 2007 by the Public Policy Institute of Califor‐ nia said air pollution is a big problem, espe‐ cially in Los Angeles and the Central Valley. More than two‐thirds of California Latinos said air pollution poses a larger health threat in lower‐income areas than in wealthier areas, and just over 40% of Latinos said they are likely to report respiratory problems in their household. It’s not just their opinion. In 2009, the American Lung Association gave Fresno an “F” grade for air quality. 24
Yet, maintaining an EJ Enforcement Task Force has been a struggle, too. A bus tour in the area in October 2008 was facili‐ tated by the Latino Issues Forum in Fresno.
24 Amy Chubb, “A Study of Income Inequality in the
Fresno County and Metropolitan Statistical Area” (2008) p. 12 at http://www.csufresno.edu/cerecc/documents/ Fresno_Income_Equality1.pdf.
But in June 2009, the group closed its office, let go its staff and suspended operations. The poor economy was blamed. DTSC’s personnel assigned to EJ work in the area also faced con‐ straints as state government instituted fur‐ lough days — mandatory days off without pay
starting in 2009.
Still, several issues highlighted by EJ residents have seen resolution. The EJ task force coordinated a meeting about a proposed power plant that was to be located down the road from an elementary school, and in Octo‐ ber 2009, the application for certification of the plant was withdrawn. An abandoned chemical site shown on the bus tour now is secured by a fence, and DTSC staffers who learned about problems with lead paint in older homes in the area have joined other EJ groups in a lead prevention group. Meantime, a proposed household hazardous waste collec‐ tion site planned for an EJ part of the city of Fresno was rejected by the city planning com‐ mission.
Starting in late 2009, the Fresno EJ En‐ forcement Initiative Task force began meeting monthly to better keep up with activities and environmental concerns.