Merced County residents experienced a greater number of days with unhealthy air in recent years, according to the annual State of the Air study.
The study, released Wednesday from the American Lung Association, says the particulate matter, things like soot, dust, mold or pollen that are small enough to be breathed in unnoticed, has increased 22 percent since 2004.
There was an average of 20 days per year between 2013 and 2015 when the air was considered unhealthy because of particle pollution, the recent data showed.
Breathing in the microscopic particles can trigger asthma attacks, increase risks of heart attacks and strokes, cause lung cancer and lead to premature death, the report said.
“There is a definite correlation between pollution and respiratory illnesses, as the air quality worsens so is the incidence of respiratory illnesses like asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis, including allergic skin conditions as well,” said Dr. Eduardo Villarama, regional medical director for Golden Valley Health Centers, in an email to the Merced Sun-Star.
Other counties in the San Joaquin Valley had it worse.
Stanislaus County had an average of 30 unhealthy particle pollution days, Fresno County had 41 and Madera County had 25.
The Modesto and Merced areas are ranked as the sixth most polluted metropolitan areas in the nation when it comes to particle and ozone pollution, the report said. Fresno and Madera areas were ranked third in particle and ozone pollution.
“The Central San Joaquin Valley is known to have some of worst air in the country,” said Justina Felix, advocacy manager for the American Lung Association. “In last 18 years of putting the report out there has been improvements in our air quality, but there’s still so much more that needs to be done.”
Overall Merced County received an “F” grade, along with many other Valley counties, like Fresno, Madera, Kern, Kings and Stanislaus.
In the last few years the drought and wildfires have played a role in poor air quality, said Seyed Sadredin, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The vegetation that protects the soil becomes destroyed, he said, that causes loose dust to blow around that would otherwise be moist.
“We don’t have rain that would clean the air and we don't have weather system dispersing and blowing away air pollution,” Sadredin said. “It’s all trapping and not dispersing air pollution that normally would when we have weather conditions.”
Seyed said people should “be careful on how much weight we put on this report” because the “F” grades most Valley counties receive doesn’t mean the air quality was bad all year long.
“In our area air quality and dealing with air quality is a top public health issue we’ve been engaged in,” Sadredin said. “Merced in particular has had improvement and is one of the cleaner counties in San Joaquin Valley region of 8 counties.”
“The issues in the San Joaquin Valley are much more complicated than this report,” he added.
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486