Vegetable Producers Sued for Air Pollution

Published March 1, 2007

Environmental activist groups in California filed a lawsuit December 27 in the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco claiming the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should declare the San Joaquin Valley in nonattainment with federal particulate matter (PM) guidelines.

The lawsuit makes good on threats by the activist group Earthjustice to challenge air quality throughout the San Joaquin Valley region.

Never Pure Enough

Although the San Joaquin Valley is far and away the nation’s largest supplier of healthy fruits and vegetables, all of that farming creates dust, and the activists have begun to target farmers as air polluters.

An article in the October 22 Sacramento Bee chronicled Earthjustice’s complaints. The activist group claims it possesses data that show unhealthy air existed on a few days around Thanksgiving in 2005 in the San Joaquin Valley at Bakersfield and Corcoran. The group does not specify the days or give the number of days of alleged noncompliance.

Science Rebuffs Activists’ Claims

Earthjustice claims small particles in the air creep into people’s lungs and cause disease. “Rural Latino communities are still choking on dust because the Air District isn’t doing enough to protect us,” stated Rey Leon of the Latino Issues Forum on the Earthjustice Web site.

Medical research on the effects of air pollution, however, does not support environmental activists’ claims that air pollution in America is killing anyone. A comprehensive 19-year study of air pollution in California, published in 2005 in the journal Inhalation Toxicology, found no effect on mortality from air pollution in 25 California counties, including Fresno.

Individuals living in the two highest air pollution counties, Kern and Riverside, had no decrease in life expectancy.

“The San Joaquin Valley has had declining PM 10 values for years,” noted Joel Schwartz, an air quality policy expert and visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “Even so, it is somewhat irrelevant because the valley is still in violation of PM 2.5 standards, so the valley will still be subject to the same regulations as it would be had it not attained PM 10 standards.”

Nevertheless, Schwartz explained, “Studies show agricultural dust, because it is so coarse and heavy, is filtered out of the air very efficiently before it reaches urban and residential areas.

“Lawsuits like this are more about publicity and trying to get courts to set regulatory policy,” Schwartz said. “There is no real merit to this lawsuit other than public relations goals and ulterior motives.”

John Dale Dunn, M.D., J.D. ([email protected]), an inactive attorney, teaches emergency medicine at Fort Hood, Texas and is a member of the Science and Policy Advisory Board of the American Council on Science and Health.

For more information …

Enstrom, J.E., “Fine particulate air pollution and total mortality among elderly Californians,” published in Inhalation Toxicology in 2005, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to and search for document #20559.