From the Hyde Park mound in West Fresno, you can see the city landscape quickly go from residential to industrial park. You can smell it, too.
Across the street, there is an animal rendering plant, a poultry facility, a meat distributor and a PG&E substation. The Hyde Park mound itself is a converted garbage landfill.
But there is more: high asthma rates, widespread poverty and low birth weights that scientists link to dirty air, chemical exposures and a host of other problems.
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The California Environmental Protection Agency takes it a step further. EPA says people in West Fresno live with higher health risks than anyone in California -- higher than any part of Los Angeles, Oakland or any place else you can name.
Life expectancy in West Fresno is more than 20 years lower than in northeast Fresno, according to a 2012 study done by a team of researchers including the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State.
West Fresno and many parts of the Valley soon will be known as the riskiest places in California to live. Financial help appears to be headed this way, but there is controversy surrounding it.
The state EPA is expected to designate the most environmentally burdened areas in the next few weeks. West Fresno is at the top of the list, and several other Valley ZIP codes are not far behind. (Update: On Tuesday, April 23, the state released the CalEnviroScreen mapping tool.)
The state EPA's draft documents show the Valley has nine of the 12 worst places in California, including four in Fresno County and three in Stockton. The map of California's worst 10% shows mostly Valley ZIP codes. (Update: The final state list released Tuesday shows the Valley has eight of the 12 worst places in California.)
The state's designations will be part of a program called California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool, or CalEnviroScreen.
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Businesses and industries worry that the science is vague and might be misused by government agencies. State leaders say the tool is not intended to replace project analysis, laws or planning.
The tool will fulfill part of the 2006 state greenhouse gas law, Senate Bill 535, by identifying such high-risk places, known as disadvantaged communities.
Funds will be raised from auctions of greenhouse gas allowances for California companies. Disadvantaged communities will be favored to get that money to address their problems.
Disadvantaged community is a good description of West Fresno. Mary Curry of the activist group Concerned Citizens of West Fresno says it has been this way for decades.
"We ask for help," she said. "Nobody has been listening."
The San Joaquin Valley has nine of the 12 most environmentally burdened places in California, including four in Fresno County and three in Stockton.
The map of California's worst 5% shows many Valley ZIP codes. The state's designations will be part of a program called California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool, or CalEnviroScreen.
Source: California Environmental Protection Agency
But state EPA is paying attention. And it's no surprise the state recognizes the multiple layers of risks in West Fresno and the Valley above other places in the state, says Jonathan London of the University of California at Davis.
He worked on a 2011 study about Valley pollution and health risks, including West Fresno and the Kings County community of Kettleman City, which is just a few miles from a hazardous waste landfill.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6316, email@example.com
or @markgrossi on Twitter. Read his Earth Log blog at news.fresnobeehive.com/earth-log.