Earlier this month, KQED's Sasha Khokha reported Central Valley residents' concerns that the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District was not effectively communicating public health warnings on poor air quality days.
Just hours after that report aired, State of Health brought news that the Valley Air District had issued an air quality alert using significantly stronger language than it had used before. Air quality activists were pleased with the new tone.
Today, air quality activists are cheering again. California Governor Jerry Brown appointed a new member to the Valley Air District board. And not just anyone, but a physician with a long background in public health. The new appointee, Dr. Alex Sherriffs, is a professor at UCSF-Fresno in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. He also has been in private practice in Fowler since 1983.
In other parts of California, the appointment of a doctor to an air district board is not overly significant. But, in the case of the Valley Air District, activists fought for a physician-dedicated position on the board for over five years. The first doctor appointed to the Valley Air District board joined in 2008 and resigned earlier this year. Now, the seat is filled again.
The Governor also selected Sherriffs as the Valley Air District board's representative to the statewide California Air Resources Board. Reached by phone this afternoon, Kevin Hall, Director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition, was enthusiastic. "We have come to know Dr. Sherriffs through his work at the medical society and his willingness to take time out of his schedule to speak up on behalf of his patients in an informed manner," Hall said. "That’s why we worked so hard for five years to create a seat for a doctor, so the voice of public health would be right there at the policy level, like the other major air districts in the state.”
The San Joaquin Valley is home to some of the most polluted air in the country, fueling a rise in asthma cases across the region. Hall says one in six children will be diagnosed with asthma by age eighteen.
In a release, Ray Leon, director of the San Joaquin Valley Latino Environmental Advancement Project echoed Hall's comments. “An expert voice on the deadly impacts of air pollution has been sorely missing from the San Joaquin Valley air board, and the lack of Valley representation on the state air board has been a detriment, too,” he said. “We are pleased that our voices will once again be represented in Sacramento."