Valley Voices

Kimberly McCoy: Enough! South Fresno’s pollution stinks

Unfortunately, very recently, our neighbors in north Fresno had a water problem. According to news reports, it seems that rust-colored water was flowing from taps.

Eventually, tests revealed that traces of lead were found in water samples taken from some homes in northeast Fresno. Local and state officials say the water is safe to drink as long as residents flush their taps for a minute or two to let the lead run off.

And The Fresno Bee reported that Fresno Public Utilities Director Thomas Esqueda said the problem is somewhere inside the homes, likely caused by iron or copper pipe corrosion.

I am delighted that this problem was solved rather quickly and that residents have answers – no one wants to see anyone hurt – but I do have a question: How fast would the city have responded if this was a problem in south Fresno?

South Fresno is living in its own bubble. As a longtime resident of south Fresno, I know the wheels of justice don’t seem to turn that quickly in this part of our city.

There are toxic facilities, like Brenntag Pacific and the Darling rendering plant, that continue to do business next to homes in the middle of neighborhoods. Meanwhile, years ago, the city built Hyde Park on top of a dump.

For years, hundreds of residents of south Fresno have told the city “Enough is enough.” I have since moved to north Fresno, but the residents who remain in south Fresno simply cannot tolerate any more bad neighbors like toxic facilities. And they shouldn’t have to.

This is a health issue. This is a life-and-death situation. We all have the right to clean air and water. I’ve been asthmatic since I was a little girl growing up in south Fresno. I was constantly sick, primarily due to the poor air quality in our city.

My asthma was so bad – and because transportation was also an issue for us – that my pediatrician would pick me up and take me to Valley Children’s Hospital.

I once had an asthma attack that still makes my mom cry. While we were waiting to receive treatment, a nurse walked by and noticed that my breathing was even more labored than usual. She snatched me from my mom’s arms and rushed me to treatment.

If I didn’t receive that emergency attention, I can only guess what would have happened. I was eventually placed in a “bubble,” and I was not able to hug my mom or receive the kindness of a human touch for more than a week. For a 6-year-old girl, it felt like a lifetime.

I will never forget this kindness and the care I received. Finally, my doctor told my mother that she needed to move us out of the area. But packing up and moving isn’t so easy.

As soon as we could, we moved to north Fresno. My quality of life soon improved, and I was finally able to play sports.

But my family suffered because of my illness. My mom had to quit her job to take care of me, and this caused financial hardships that affect us to this day.

Now, sadly, my son, Norwood, has asthma, and I have to monitor his activities due to the poor air quality. For a mother of a very active 4-year-old who loves to play outside, it hurts me to the core to have to tell him he can’t play outside today because the air quality is bad.

Though I have considered moving for Norwood’s sake, I love my city, my job and I wanted to keep my child close to his family.

Air quality doesn’t respect boundaries. We can’t run from bad air, but we should all be able to live in a city where all parts of town receive the same services. We all deserve to live in one healthy city.

Kimberly McCoy of Fresno is a community organizer for Communities for a New California Education Fund. Write to her at kimberly@cncedfund.org.

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