Clean Country Air?

Clean Country Air?

by C.K. Hickey, Eco Coalition Editor

Anyone who’s ever visited the San Joaquin Valley in central California knows that “clean country air” can be a misnomer. A predominantly agricultural region, valley cities such as Fresno and Bakersfield routinely vie for the top spot with Los Angeles on the EPA’s list of worst air quality offenders in the United States. Scientists have pondered the valley’s high levels of ozone – one of the main ingredients in smog – for years. Although Fresno is now the fifth largest city in California, the city and surrounding valley have a lower population density and fewer motor vehicles compared to big urban areas like Los Angeles.

A recent study in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science and Technology, however, unearths new insight on this conundrum: cattle feed. Yes, cattle feed. The study documents emissions of reactive organic gases – which react with combustion emissions and sunlight to form smog – from seven different animal feeds. As it turns out, fermented feed like silage appears to be the largest man-made source of these ozone-enabling organic gases – even more than automobiles! Considering the large number of raised livestock in the valley, this might help explain the ineffectiveness of vehicle smog control regulations. Hopefully this study proves such traditional smog-fighting techniques will not always work in every region of the country, and encourages more creative solutions for the Valley’s air quality. I’ll be rooting for a solution to the stench one encounters driving past the stockyards on the way to Fresno, too.

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