Worst Air In Nation 20 Miles From Bakersfield

EPA Claims Arvin, Calif., Has Nation’s Worst Air

When it comes to smoggy cities, most people think of major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Houston, or New York.

Rural areas like Arvin, Calif., where many people are migrant farmworkers, related to Latino immigrants, and live a life revolved around farmland and farming, you wouldn’t automatically think “worst air in the nation.”

The EPA has reported that Arvin's level of ozone exceeded the amount considered acceptable on an average of 73 days per year between 2004 and 2006.

Ozone is a primary component of smog and can trigger many respiratory problems related to asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and, according to AIRNow.gov, may reduce immune system strength in fighting such infections.

Kern County has a childhood asthma rate that far exceeds national averages at 17.5 percent of children under age 18. The national average is 12.2 percent according to the California Department of Health Services.

What is the cause of Arvin’s smog? Location and valley air flow.

Arvin rests in the southeastern end of California’s Great Central Valley where smog flows from as far away as San Francisco and other industrial areas, gets trapped, and settles over the area. Air particles coat homes, streets, cars and fields, and, like smog in Bakersfield, blocks any view of mountains that stand just a few miles away from both cities.

Arvin residents often stay indoors on hot days. A few use respiratory masks when working outside. Some residents, according to the Associated Press, even plan on moving.

Closer to Arvin is the rural town of Lamont, only 7.5 miles away. Jesse Rivera who lives in Lamont said, “Most people here joke about bad air. We all know about it. But what can you do?”

Rivera indicated that some people in the area blame local dairies and farms. He said, “A little bit of wind can make dairy air creep into town. Most people don’t realize the pollution is coming from outside of town. They think locally.”

Teresa Houston grew up in the Lamont/Arvin area and now works in Bakersfield. Her grandparents were once small farmers during the 1950s-1960s where a golf course is now built in the area.

“You used to be able to see Bear mountain all the time,” Houston said. “Now you can’t always see the mountains. It’s dark and dirty. It’s grey.”

Will Arvin’s air quality problem be fixed any time soon? Possibly not.

The valley’s air-quality board recently voted to extend the previous target deadline of 2012, claiming the goal was not possible.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has fought Arvin’s poor air-quality situation, and even fired the chairman of the California Air Resources Board who had approved the board’s extension in June.