Air Pollution Causes, Effects & Solutions

Introduction: Pollution is a widespread phenomenon that has been affecting many in the US and around the world for years. Pollutants range from carbon monoxide, mercury, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter. Looking more closely in California, specifically the San Joaquin Valley, the two most dominant pollutants are ozone and particulate matter. Ozone, also known as smog, is an invisible harmful pollutant that causes many health issues. Particulate pollution is a combination of different sized particles that each have different effects on the environment and human body that are considered dangerous. The San Joaquin Valley is home to agricultural regions that pose environmental challenges including some of the worst air quality (How Healthy Is the Air You Breathe? 2018). Due to its widespread land surrounded by mountains, the geography allows for the collection of pollutants produced from the surrounding areas in the north and south, acting like a bowel; therefore, trapping the harmful pollutants in the valley. There are many sources that have created the issue of poor air quality in the valley which has led to many diseases and contamination of the land and water in the area. Although there have been many policies put in place to help resolve the issue of pollution in the San Joaquin Valley, the geography of the valley has allowed ozone and particulate matter to pose a threat to the health, economy, and social life of the citizens in the area.

Sources of pollutants

Particulate matter: The causes of the pollutants in the San Joaquin Valley are largely due to its geography. The vast mountain ranges that surround the entire valley does not allow for the dispersal of the harmful pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter. The prevention of the spread of pollutants is due to an inversion layer: where warm air traps the cooler air along with ozone and particulate matter near the surface so they cannot circulate and escape (Berg 2011). This trapping effect of the pollutants causes the formation of new pollutants. Data has shown that the ozone and particulate matter in the San Joaquin Valley are very seasonal and vary from meteorology conditions to sources of the pollutants (Skiles 2018). Some of the sources found in the valley area that contribute to the particulate matter are mobile sources, biomass burning, smoke from cooking, and secondary organic carbon. Concentration of particulate matter observed in the San Joaquin Valley were found to have peaks at the end of summertime and during the winter (See appendix A). Biomass burning was shown most prominent and the main contributor of pollution during the latter half of winter time. Seasonality was also seen through meat smoke that showed peak averages between the beginning of fall through winter months. The more constant pollutant was observed to be mobile sources which contributed throughout the whole year. This was considered to be one of the highest sources of organic compound pollutants compared to the other sources, and would have peaks where other pollutants would not. Vegetative waste was one of the lower contributors to pollution; however, it was found to be linked to primary sources of pollution causing just as much affects as the other primary sources.

Ozone: Other influences of ozone and particulate matter are contributed by meteorological processes such as: wind circulation, solar radiation, and temperature changes. These processes specifically alter ozone by affecting the control of the physiological and chemical responses that help to develop ozone (Jin 2011). There has been research done by sensitivity studies that has showcased factors other than meteorology that contribute to ozone pollution which include short term and long term emissions. The emissions that form ozone in the San Joaquin Valley are also due to local and upwind areas (Jin 2011). Areas in the north such as the Bay Area and Sacramento Valley, are some of the primary basins for the wind that contribute to the San Joaquin Valley ozone (See appendix B). Trends during the summer conveyed unique patterns that demonstrated peaks during individual days. The highest source of ozone was observed where there were more emission sources and least amounts of ozone were observed in rural areas. Therefore, ozone suggests that there are strong differentiations in the levels of ozone across the valley. These deviations in levels of ozone are related to source relationships with different meteorological processes in various regions.

Temperature can also affect the ozone levels as shown in Appendix C, where cooler temperatures were associated with lower ozone levels; whereas, higher temperatures contributed to increased levels of ozone shown more in the San Joaquin Valley. Diurnal changes have also been observed to be affected by temperature differences between inland and the coastal areas. The sea breeze from the coasts increase during the mid morning when heating occurs over land, and reaches its maximum around sunset. However, the winds differ depending on the region. During the daytime when it is the warmest in the San Joaquin Valley, the air becomes stagnant, trapping the polluted air and preventing it from moving out of the Valley. This correlates to the ozone levels and their relationship with wind patterns.

Impacts On the Valley

Agricultural impacts: The San Joaquin Valley is one of the most productive agricultural regions; however, brings about some of the worst air quality in the area. This is due to certain factors like irrigation which impact pollutants throughout the Central Valley (Li 2016). Since the San Joaquin Valley alone holds millions of acres of irrigated land in the US, it produces over 10 percent of the agricultural production. This land use and the coverage of land transpires due to changes in environment such as climate change and/or wildfires and human activities including agriculture. Irrigation happens year round and has posed the question of how it affects ozone and other pollutants. Irrigation in agriculture indirectly alters the meteorological habitats of pollution by multiple factors. One of the ways irrigation can increase pollution is by increasing moisture in the soil which causes a decrease in air temperature. Once the air temperature is decreased, it affects photochemical rates (Li 2016). Another way is increasing the humidity which results in concentrations of certain compounds to become strengthened in the atmosphere. Studies have found that this increase in poor air quality by irrigation has been linked to the absence of clouds and moisture in the air.

Not only has irrigation been a contributing factor to air pollution, but agricultural runoff has also become an issue in this regard. The impact of rising temperatures, precipitation, and pesticides have been correlated to changes in runoff (Ficklin 2009). This change in the runoff has resulted in the increase of carbon dioxide levels which in turn, increases other compounds in the air such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Such changes cause alterations to the precipitation and water cycle which affect crop production and agricultural runoff. This issue has caused much concern in the San Joaquin Valley due to the increase in contamination of surface water.

Health Impacts: Due to the poor air quality in the San Joaquin Valley, many of the citizens face short term and long term health-related issues. The area is among one of the highest ranked for the issue of asthma compared to other parts of the US (Meng 2010). High ratings of asthma have come down to the conclusions that areas with increased ozone and particulate matter levels are the main contributors in the San Joaquin Valley. Exposure to the pollutants has many factors including traffic, agricultural activities, wood burning, and combustion sources. These have been found to contribute to the health related issues that arise in the San Joaquin Valley. Other issues related to cardiac and pulmonary effects are largely due to the size differentiation in particulate matter and seasonal exposure (Plummer 2015). Pulmonary injuries and inflammatory responses were prominent in leading to cell damage in the body. These pulmonary diseases and inflammatory responses such as asthma attacks or exacerbation and acute bronchitis have lead to an increase in hospital admissions. Other adverse effects of pollution in the San Joaquin Valley have been correlated to preterm births (Huang 2018). Studies have linked particulate matter as well as other contaminants such as water, carbon, sulfate, and lead to increased levels of preterm births. This is associated with adverse consequences in childhood and adulthood secondary to exposure of pollution.

Economic impacts: New studies have suggested that health related impacts of air pollution have cost the region approximately billions of dollars each year. Initiatives that focus on the adverse effects of health related issues and their economic risks have found that the environmental concerns are typically put aside. The cost of air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley is around one-thousand per person due to premature deaths in adults, hospital visits and admissions, days off work, and other health-related issues (Hewlett Foundation 2006). These components are seen more prominently in communities of low socioeconomic status. This is linked to inability to have healthcare which in turn does not allow for the care the citizens need to help resolve or take care of the health issue. With the population projected to continue to grow, the San Joaquin Valley with only double the health effects and economic hardship with the increase of pollution. Since the San Joaquin Valley is vulnerable to environmental challenges like climate change, climate policies have been put in place to help control the impacts of pollution (Jones 2018).

Environmental Policies

The San Joaquin Valley has failed to meet federal health standards for ozone and particulate for years now. This has caused the implementation of various policies to be put in place to help maintain pollution in the Valley. The EPA has worked alongside the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition to help reduce particulate matter and ozone. Other works in the making have been enforced to regulate clean-vehicle programs, restrictions on wood burning, and other sources of pollution (EPA 2018). Other ways to help reduce pollution has been due to advances in technology in engines and clean energy. Medical research has been another contributor in finding ways to reduce the emissions of ozone and particulate matter and the health effects in children, adults, and the elderly. Clean air enforcement have been enforcing permits specifically to facilities to ensure proper installation for air pollution control. If facilities do not obtain these permits, they could pay penalties up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Other measures to help reduce landfill pollution has been implemented by the Clean Air Act Settlement to make sure there are less landfill fleets with polluting vehicles. The Clean Air Act has also resolved a major issues regarding oil and gas production that has been correlated with greenhouse emissions. The company that was causing these emissions agreed to pay thousands of dollars to settle the issue (EPA 2018).


Although The Clean Air Act has implemented many policies to reduce emissions of ozone, particulate matter, and other sources of pollution, the San Joaquin Valley still reigns as one of the worst air quality in the US. Ozone and particulate matter have been linked to seasonal trends due to differing sources like burning and other secondary organic compounds. Trends that have been observed showcase differing peaks within certain times in the summer and winter that allow for various emission sources and their effects to occur. These trends have led to many health problems leading to increased economic value due to hospital admissions, acute diagnosis, and other long term effects. The effects of the pollutants are largely due to variation of sizes of the particulate matter and the increased levels growing population. This phenomenon has been a challenge for many years for the San Joaquin Valley; however, continuous research and policies are helping to reduce the problem of pollution.

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