The Shafter Press - Serving the community since 1922

By Jamie Stewart
The Shafter Press 

Plans to better the air

Public meetings look at options


Jamie Stewart | The Shafter Press

Jimmy Yee, the facilitator for the meeting, welcomes attendees.

With the enactment of AB617 into law, 10 communities in California were chosen as "disadvantaged communities" and were selected to have a steering committee create a plan that will improve their air quality and environmental issues. Shafter was one of two communities selected in the San Joaquin Valley, along with South Fresno.

The criteria used to deem communities "disadvantaged" were exposure to pollutants in the air, as well as high rates of health problems and economic factors such as unemployment and poverty levels. Shafter was found to be in the 87 percentile of heart disease, as well as high unemployment and poverty levels, and the city also has a high rate of exposure to pesticides and diesel emissions.

The Shafter Steering Committee is made up of local residents, business owner, and government officials. Council member Cathy Prout and City Manager Scott Hurlbert are members of the committee and can participate in meetings, but will not have a vote when it comes time to voting on a proposed plan.

The committee held their sixth meeting on Monday night at the Shafter Veterans Hall. Environmental experts from agencies including OEHHA, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, San Joaquin Valley Air District and CARB (the California Air Resources Board). Heather Bolstad, a staff toxicologist for OEHHA, explained to the committee how risks are assessed when determining what exposure a community endures. Bolstad told the committee, "There are several factors we use when deeming the risk a community has environmentally, such as the toxicity of the chemical, as well as how long residents are exposed to the pollutant throughout the year."

Bolstad said that there are different types of particulate matter. PM 10 is considered less dangerous, including dust, pollen, mold, etc.. These particulates get into the nose and throat, but are usually expelled and do not stay in the system. Particulates PM 2.5 are combustion particles, organic compounds and metals. These particulates can reach deep into a person's lungs and can cause more serious health issues, especially in those sensitive such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women and those already dealing with health issues such as emphysema, asthma and heart problems.

Bolstad also said, "There is hard data linking the reduction of PM exposures to improved health in residents in those areas.

Steering Committee member Tom Frantz asked Bolstad how those doing the studies are going to determine where the pollutants are coming from when they do not have enough data yet to find the source of the pollutants that the community is exposed to. Bolstad commented that they would be able to trace the pollutants in a process similar to a fingerprint once they have the monitoring system in place.

Alejandra Cervantes of CARB updated the committee on the inventory of area source emissions, telling the panel where the highest exposures are taking place within the Shafter area. She said, "We found that over 60 percent of the emissions in the Shafter area is coming from farming operations, with food preparation, mostly commercial, is also on their radar. Cervantes had a map that had the highest exposure rates highlighted on a grid map of the surrounding Shafter area. One of the 1-kilometer areas that was highest in exposure on the map brought a question from City Manager Scott Hurlbert. "I live in Shafter and know the area. One of the red boxes indicating the highest rate of exposure is actually in the middle of an empty field. Two kilometers over is Highway 43 and Lerdo Highway, which has a lot higher rate of traffic on the roads than the area depicted on the map. How can we use this data if it is not accurate?"

Cervantes commented that these meetings are being held to clear up any inaccurate data and make sure to get the correct data to the committee before they are charged to make a decision regarding a plan for Shafter.

Jamie Stewart | The Shafter Press

Heather Bolstad of OEHHA explains the different types of pollutants.

With the large number of questions that the committee had for the panel, it was clear that with a only six months left before the October deadline, there is a lot of work to do regarding getting the committee the correct and updated information to be used for an effective plan.

The next committee meeting is June 3 at the Shafter Veterans Hall, and the public is invited to attend. Steering Committee members for the Shafter area are residents Ezperanza Castelan, John Guinn, Socorro Guzman, Oscar Hernandez, Dora Hernandez-Jara, Cameron Hunter, Maria Jaime, Phillip Jimenez, Angelica Lopez, Antonio Lopez, Maria Marquez, Christopher Marquez, Abigail Marquez, Lynnda Martin, Mary Mestas, David Piuser, Leticia Sanchez, Felipa Trujillo, Fermin Vargas Machuca, Edward Zacarias. There group also includes Environmental Justice advocates Gustavo Aguirre Jr., Tom Frantz, Gabriela Gonzales, Byanka Santoyo and business members Brad Tuck and Ron Voit. Government officials participating are Michael Dillenbeck, Sal Moretti, Scott Hurlbert and Cathy Prout.


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