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'If you love your child, move'

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Where's the worst air in America? Los Angeles, with its freeways gridlocked with smog-spewing cars? Houston, where petrochemical plants pump out their poisons 24 hours a day?

The distinction actually belongs to the small California farming town of Arvin, about 20 miles southeast of Bakersfield. The EPA says that Arvin's level of ozone, the primary component in smog, exceeded the amount considered acceptable on an average of 73 days per year between 2004 and 2006. And, says the AP, almost all of Arvin's pollution comes from somewhere else:

Arvin has none of the smoke-belching factories or congested freeways of cities such as Los Angeles. In fact, it produces little pollution. But the pollutants that blow in from elsewhere get trapped by the mountains, causing airborne particles to coat homes and streets and blot out views of the nearby Tehachapi range on hot summer days.

But obscured mountain vistas aren't the problem.

Specific asthma data for Arvin is not available, but surrounding Kern County has a childhood asthma rate that far exceeds state and nation averages, with 17.5 percent of children under the age of 18 suffering from the condition. The state average is 14.8 percent, the national average 12.2 percent, according to the California Department of Health Services.


Amalia Leal, a family advocate with the local school district, [says that] without the skills or resources to relocate, many families are trapped in Arvin.

But her advice to parents with chronically asthmatic children is simple.

“Move,” she said. “If you love your child, move.”

EPA is proposing to strengthen national ozone standards to protect public health, including the health of "sensitive" populations such as asthmatics, children, and the elderly. (To see if your county meets current standards, check the map.) Not that the prospect of tighter standards holds out much hope of releif for Arvin any time soon: EPA's timeline for communities to meet the new standard extends to 2030.

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