UC DAVIS (US) — Half the people that live in California’s agriculturally rich San Joaquin Valley face elevated levels of air and water pollution, poverty, limited education, language barriers, and racial and ethnic segregation, a new study shows.
The study used a new measure developed to identify locations and populations within the Valley that are at greatest risk and found that 51 percent of residents experience high cumulative environmental vulnerability, with more than half of those experiencing acute cumulative vulnerability.
“Our conclusion is that immediate and comprehensive action is needed by local, regional, and state policymakers to protect the health and well-being of the region’s most vulnerable residents,” says study leader Jonathan London, assistant professor of human and community development at the University of California, Davis and director of the Center for Regional Change.
Home to 4 million people, the San Joaquin Valley spans 300 miles through the center of the state, is a major transportation artery connecting northern and southern California, and contains three of what the U.S. Department of Agriculture designates the nation’s top-producing agricultural counties—Fresno, Kern, and Tulare.
The report found:
- The cumulative dangers were not evenly distributed across the region. Some of the communities facing the greatest levels of acute vulnerability include west Fresno, Monterey Park, Kettleman City, Matheny Tract, Earlimart and Wasco.
- Environmental and social vulnerability among at-risk populations persist, despite special attention from regulators and policymakers.
- Those with limited education and English fluency face difficulties advocating on their own behalf.
“With this report, we finally have the data that can lead to collaboration and action,” says Kevin Hamilton, deputy chief of programs at Clinica Sierra Vista and a member of the San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impact Project. “It’s obvious to all that there are health and other disparities, but there’s been a lack of data available to help communities, businesses and government collaborate to take next steps.”
The study was conducted in partnership with the San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impact Project, a community-university partnership with environmental health and social justice organizations in the San Joaquin Valley.
It recommends that analysis of cumulative effects uncovered in the study be integrated into existing policy and planning frameworks in the region, and that special attention be focused on higher-risk areas.
“With one in two residents at elevated risk and one in three at extreme risk, now is the time to solve big problems by looking at the big picture. Without broad discussion and creative solutions, the San Joaquin Valley, especially its children, can’t reach its full potential,” says Sarah Sharpe, of Fresno Metro Ministry, who coordinates the San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Project.
“This report provides policymakers, government agency leaders, and community activists a tool to measure the cumulative impacts on Valley residents and a road map to prioritizing solutions to these problems.”
The study was conducted in partnership with the San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impact Project, a community-university partnership with environmental health and social justice organizations in the San Joaquin Valley and was supported by funding from the Ford Foundation, the UC Davis John Muir Institute of the Environment, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Community Forestry and Environmental Resource Partnerships graduate fellowship.
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