Is Fresno Air Quality Good?

The below article talks about the air quality in Fresno, why it is so, what can be done, what’s the future for Fresno like, along with some frequently asked questions about Fresno Air Quality.

Is Fresno Air Quality Good?

Unfortunately, no. Fresno air quality is quite poor and is said to be incredibly polluted. State actors and regional stakeholders need to take immediate action to ensure the protection and well-being of their citizens. The air quality levels in Fresno go way beyond the recommended global standards and is thus a vulnerable situation for citizens living in the area, especially for those who were previously diagnosed with chronic illnesses, respiratory diseases, kids, etc. 

About Fresno 

Fresno is one of the major cities in the San Joaquin Valley in California, US. The city covers about 112 sq. feet and is considered the 34th most populous city in the country with 542,107 citizens in 2020 (USCB, 2020). The city is an economic hub with large-scale agricultural production that has fast-tracked economic development and growth in the area. 

There are various environmental concerns that is tied with Fresno including hazardous air pollution levels, contamination of ground water, chemical run-offs that pollute water bodies and other surrounding areas, radon contamination, emissions from large scale production, wildfire pollution and smoke, etc. For the purposes of the article, we will be focusing on the air quality in Fresno.

Air Quality in Fresno

Fresno is a large city with over half a million people and large scale agricultural production, at the cross sections of other busy cities such as Los Angeles (LA) and San Francisco (SF), which are some of the most populated and biggest urban centers in California. Therefore, there are various factors that contribute to the poor air quality in Fresno, and mainly they can be divided into the following:

  • Vehicular emissions as a part of the large scale productions, tourists, daily commuters to the hub, trucks, cargo vehicles, etc. 
  • Factory emissions from nearby industries, and large-scale farming operations
  • Ozone, dust, and particulate matter through farming activities such as spraying pesticides, using chemical fertilizers, etc. 
  • Smoke residue and particulate matter from nearby wildfires that get caught and cycled in between the mountains and forests of the area

Why is Fresno particularly vulnerable to poor air quality?

The American Lung Association published a report called the “State of the Air” in 2021, which has reported the country’s significant progress in improving air quality and reducing emissions to improve overall health in its citizens. However, the report has brought to light that even with the progress made, over 40% of Americans, i.e., ~135 million people still live in areas with hazardous air quality levels (Jakobs J., 2021). 

Data from IQAir as recent as December 01, 2021 shows that of the top 10 polluted cities in US, 9 cities come under California (IQAir, 2021). Which brings to notice that even though there may be substantive actions being taken and quantitative progress being made, it has not produced results in a manner that would enhance the prosperity and well-being of citizens in the area. 

Fresno plays a major role in the country’s growth in the agricultural industry. This in confluence with being in the cross-hairs of several intersecting national highways, has been one of the greatest contributing factors to the poor air quality in the city. Vehicular traffic in the area is consistently high due to the economic influence the city has as an agricultural and industrial hub, and is one of the major stops for tourists travelling within California to visit attractions such as the different national parks, the Kings Canyon, etc. 

In 2016, the tourism industry has been found to contribute ~1.4 billion USD to Fresno each year (Sheehan T., 2016), which means that the tourism up until 2019 would have contributed in similar or higher revenues to the city. In 2020, travel-related spending in California decreased by 55% from the previous year with just a revenue of 65.1 billion USD (Visit California, 2020). This would have also meant that tourism through Fresno decreased, thus giving the air quality levels in the city a much-needed break. 

Particulate pollution such as PM10 and PM2.5 is the most common in the area and can be attributed to emissions from large-scale transportation vehicles, commuter vehicles, trucking, farming equipment, etc. The usage of pesticides in various methods such as spraying them through low-flying helicopters or being used through the hose and spray ensures that there is a continuous emission of toxic particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), dust, and contaminated vapor. IQAir reports that the PM2.5 pollution in Fresno is 9.2 times higher than the globally set standards by WHO, and is thus the major pollutant in the city currently (IQAir, 2021). 

Ozone is another pollutant that Fresno faces regularly. This can be attributed to the high heat levels, gas particles, airborne pollutants, etc. that interact with sunlight to produce ozone. This is exacerbated during incidents of wildfire when smoke travels throughout the state and reaches Fresno, thus increasingly loading upon the poor air quality in the city. During the wildfires of August 2020 in Northern California, the smoke traveled into Fresno raising air quality into “Unhealthy” levels with a daily average of 150 US AQI, and peaking at 219 US AQI which is categorized to be “Very Unhealthy” within the first weekend of the wildfire (IQAir, 2021). 

Other relevant pollutants in the city include a high concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and NOx pollution. This is a common pollutant as a result of the common reactions that produce ozone, and can also be largely contributed via vehicular emissions. It is considered a secondary pollutant in Fresno due to the sheer volume of this pollutant in the city. 

Health Implications 

Health implications of poor air quality have been studied extensively and can be regularly observed across various countries in varying degrees. The inequality of air pollution is such that it is caused by the larger global actors in the economy and yet the consequences are faced by some of the most vulnerable populations in the world including marginalized communities, chronically diagnosed patients, children, senior citizens, etc. In a recent census count conducted in Fresno in 2020, the below statistics were revealed as chronic health implications amongst sensitive and vulnerable groups (USCB, 2020):

  • 17,298 children with asthma
  • 60,395 adults with asthma
  • 31,587 adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
  • 385 adults with lung cancer
  • 45,225 adults with cardiovascular disease

A 2015 analysis conducted by the Kaiser Health News, a non-profit health newsroom based in California found out that the rates in visits into ER for kids with asthma have increased exponentially between 2005 – 2012 (USN, 2015). Below are some statistics that shows the increase in ER visits in selected areas: 

California CountiesPercentage Increase
Madera108.2 %
Merced88.6 %
Kern66.3 %
Sacramento47.9 %
Solano45.5 %
Fresno44.0 %
Contra Costa29.8 %
Stanislaus28.1 %
San Bernardino23.4 %
California17.9 %
Los Angeles17.0 %

There are various other sources from research studies to newspaper articles about such alarming numbers that are proof of the decreasing air quality in Fresno and the chronic impacts it leaves on the citizens. Back in 2015, there were lesser influential factors that contributed to these ER visits. However, in the current scenario, the numbers that we would see would have additional influential elements of being triggered by environmental catastrophes and the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

What’s next for Fresno?

The city of Fresno will have to take immediate measures to phase out the pollutants that are currently prevalent across the city. Some measures that will have to be enforced include:

  • Changing fuel sources to ones that are eco-friendly, sustainable, and produces lower carbon footprints. 
  • Creating systems and frameworks from clean vehicles fuelling that are accessible and affordable to all.
  • Usage of clean and eco-friendly agricultural equipment for large-scale farming activities.
  • Organic farming frameworks, subsidies, participatory schemes, cooperative agreements, joint stakeholder venture programs for mutually beneficial programs, and programs.
  • Holistic community development frameworks that ensure community engagement through participatory approaches towards development. 
  • Sustainable farming implementations. 
  • Intersectional lens being used to create development frameworks.
  • Encourage regional stakeholders through tax cut-offs or subsidies to make the switch towards eco-friendly choices.
  • Implement comprehensive programs that target the needs of the community and environmental health.
  • Ensure youth participation in the frameworks and implementations so that whatever is enforced and implemented is durable and will be taken forward through participatory responsibilities. 
  • Reduce the stationary sources of emissions and track mobile sources, so that the city can address them separately and find relevant solutions that comply with the needs of the stakeholders. 
  • Getting rid of older equipment, vehicles, or other sources of toxic emissions that would either have to be replaced or updated to meet current health standards. 
  • Create environmental health frameworks and enforce the “Polluter pays principle” amongst actors in the area to ensure increased accountability and effective actions. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Is air quality in Fresno good or bad?

What are the top polluted cities in the US currently?

As of December 1, 2021, the most polluted cities in the US are as follows (IQAir, 2021):

RankingCityUS AQI (US Air Quality Index)
1Cypress, California 164
2Manteca, California152
3Country Club, California 149
4Easton, California 149
5Hanford, California149
6Stockton, California148
7Byron, California 143
8Alpena, Michigan138
9Mountain House, California138
10Salida, California136

Is there hope for the air quality in Fresno?

The “State of the Air” Report in 2021 shows that there have been dramatic changes in the efforts being taken in the Fresno County. Jamie Holt, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control has quoted the following “What you’re breathing on a daily bases in the San Joaquin Valley continues to improve.”, and she believes that the current sources of pollution would be phased out within 4 to 5 years and thus have much improved air quality and health conditions in the area (Jakobs J., 2021). 

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

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IQAir. (2021, 12-01-2021). Live AQI City Ranking. Real-time USA city ranking. Viewed on 12-01-2021.  

IQAir. (2021). Air Quality in Fresno. Viewed on 12-01-2021.  

Jakobs J. (2021, April 21). Fresno gets ‘F’ Grades in Air Quality Again, but Is Any Progress Being Made? GVWire. Viewed on 12-01-2021. 

United States Census Bureau (USCB). (2020). 2020 Census. Viewed on 12-01-2021.  

United States News & World Report (USN). (2015, May 30). ER Visits for Asthma Rising AMongst Kids in California. Viewed on 12-01-2021. 

Visit California. (2020). Economic Impact of Travel in California 2011 – 2020. Viewed on 12-01-2021. 


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