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Air Pollution in California’s Central Valley – Causes, Impacts and Mitigation Strategies


California’s Central Valley is one of the most air-polluted regions in the USA. Due to the geographical location of the area, the cities of Bakersfield, Modesto, and Fresno are on the list of the most polluted cities in the Valley (Whiteside, 2007). Being surrounded by the mountains from all sides, they represent a kind of a pool for the air pollutants, caused by the industries, expanding in the region, overpopulation, and the rapidly developing agricultural sector. These emissions cannot be eliminated because of the inverted warm air. However, the country has taken the necessary measures, aimed at combating the problem of air pollution. Such measures as the new technologies, the state, and local laws as well as economic incentives help California’s Central Valley fight the problem of air pollution and to decrease indicators.

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The population of the Central Valley of California has rapidly increased during the post-war urbanization processes. As a result, the number of cars and plants increased as well, leading to the health problems of the population. Smog renders an especially dangerous effect on the health of people. According to Whiteside (2007), death rates in the Valley are much higher than in the other parts of the country. Moreover, extensive air pollution damage is caused to the buildings and constructions, causing corrosion, the emergence of cracks, and the weakening of used materials.

Air pollution causes damage to the agricultural industry as well. The presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere complicates the development of plants. Moreover, fluoric connections badly influence photosynthesis. These harmful air pollutants include the gases, containing sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and oxides of nitrogen getting to the atmosphere from the industrial enterprises of the region (Cline, 2015). Thus, these substances severely increase the level of air pollution. Therefore, being one of the most polluted regions in the USA, California’s Central Valley is polluted with air pollutants, caused by the development of industries, the growth in the number of vehicles, the climate change and requires the implementation of the mitigation strategies aimed at the decrease of the pollution level in the region.

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Local, State, and Federal Rules on Air Pollutants

Natural air pollution is insignificant as compared to the artificial pollution that increases every year. Thus, air pollution includes air impurities, formed not as a result of the spontaneous natural processes but owning to the human activity. It leads to the qualitative and quantitative change of air pollution.

Air pollution can be controlled by the laws installing the desirable standards or technologies aimed at the achievement of these standards. In the USA, Congress adopted the Clean Air Acts in 1970, 1977, and 1990 that gave considerable opportunities for air pollution control to the federal government (Lobdell et al., 2011). These acts obliged the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to present the national air quality standards for seven main pollutants of open-air: the weighed firm particles, oxides of sulfur, carbon oxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, hydrocarbons, and lead. Each standard determines the maximum admissible level, the average for a certain period, for some pollutants of open air. USEPA establishes the standards of admissible ozone level, using the health and welfare of the state citizens who bear the responsibility for the implementation of these standards with the help and assistance of EPA. The responsibility for the implementation of air quality control management is put in the first place, offering a chance of federal control over states and attempting to retain the achieved level (Lobdell et al., 2011). In addition, EPA provides the technical and strategic guidance, assistance, and supervision of the states in addition to the establishment of the national quality standards.

Apart from that, the Clean Air Acts obliged USEPA to establish the unique national standards of the maximum emissions known as the new standards based on the principle “the industry for the industry” (Lobdell et al., 2011, 492-493). Congress fixed the order of the achievement of the definite percentage for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, hydro carbonates, and nitrogen oxides by motor transport. Although significant progress is noted, the series of the legally granted delays have removed the extreme term of the achievement of the majority of these purposes.

One of the first rules of local authorities included the introduction of the ban of the open burning of garbage that was a usual practice in each house of the Valley before. With the development of new automobile technologies, the authorities of the State of California obliged producers to equip all cars with catalytic converters, and the oil companies – to deliver unleaded fuel. The air quality standards were introduced in 1959 for the first time, and municipalities began controlling the quality of air and to inform the residents of the state (Cisneros et al., 2010). It promoted the increase in the awareness of citizens. The regular announcement of the “high hazard” days induced the residents of the Valley to respond to the appeal to accept air quality improvement strategy (Whiteside, 2007). In addition, having learned about air pollution and its effects on human health, local authorities reconsidered the quality standards of air and introduced additional air pollution control measures.

Since 1960, the stricter federal automobile emissions standards, advanced anti-smog devices, and the new types of automobile fuel promoted the improvement of air quality. The technologies of the 21st century made renewable energy resources and eco-friendly construction methods cost-efficient. At the same time, federal and local tax benefits for environmentally-friendly commercial and housing construction, solar power objects, and hybrid and electric vehicles became quite serious stimuli for the residents of the Valley.

The Sources and Seasonal Variations of Pollutants

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The anthropogenous sources of air pollution in California’s Central Valley include industries, transport, and agriculture. The structure of the emission of air pollutants varies, depending on the source of emissions. The emissions of harmful substances include gases (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon oxide, hydrocarbons, etc.), liquids (acids, alkalis, solutions of salts, etc.), and firm substances (dust, soot, etc.) (Cisneros et al., 2010). Thus, anthropogenous air pollution is presented both by primary and secondary impurities. The secondary impurities are formed as a result of chemical reactions between several connections or between impurities and natural gas. Aldehydes are among such impurities. Automobiles compose the main type of transport, polluting the environment. The sources of air pollutants include the fulfilled gases of the internal combustion engines, crankcase fumes (for the cars with the carburetor engine), and the evaporation of fuel from a fuel system.

There are two types of air pollutions such as pollution by small firm parts and ozone pollution. Thus, pollution by small parts includes the soot and smoke formed as the result of the compound of the nitric and sulfuric acids with the parts of metal, dirt, and organic chemical elements. This type of air pollution is characteristic for the Valley area as there are many power plants, waste recycling plants, and other industrial facilities with the emissions of hazardous substances into the atmosphere. Depending on the size, there are large parts, having a diameter from 2,5 microns to 10 microns, small – with a diameter from 2,5 microns and less, and the smallest parts with a diameter of fewer than 0,1 microns (Cisneros et al., 2010). Both types of air pollution contribute to the worsening of the air condition in the Valley.

Apart from that, there are also seasonal variations of air pollutants. The ozone pollution of the near-earth air layer is one of them. This type of pollution, known as clouds, arises from the mix of hydrocarbons and an oxide of nitrogen, contained mainly in the exhaust gases of motor transport with air. During the summer period, ozone pollution is increased because, under the influence of sunlight and heat, specified chemical elements are mixed with air, forming the haze of yellow color. Most often, smog is formed in the windless sunny days near high-speed highways and the highly-intensive large settlements, like the cities of the Valley. More than 90% of the exhausted ammonia and 80% of the methane emissions emerge as the result of agricultural activity, including the burning of the brush and cuttings in summer and autumn (Cline, 2015). Thus, the agricultural industry, actively developing in summer and autumn periods, composes one of the main sources of air pollution in the region.

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The Impact of Climate Change on Pollution Level

Climate has always made an essential impact on natural, social, and economic processes. Climate changes, including the greenhouse effect and overall planet warming, have an essential impact on natural and social-economic processes. Not only does the warming of the climate and its impact on the quality of air attracts the attention of the world community but it also is a matter of concern of California’s authorities (Zhao, Chen, Kleeman, Tyree, & Cayan, 2011). They consider climate the major natural resource, whose redistribution between the states has serious social, economic, and political consequences determining the welfare of the world’s states.

Until recently, scientific discussions and the policy in the field of air pollution and climate change were conducted independently from each other. However, it becomes clear that these problems are inseparably linked. For example, it is known that the concentration of dispersible substances in air changes depending on the seasonal factors and the phenomena connected with the environment such as temperature, wildfires, winds, and storms. The world forecasts for the USA show that the concentration of air pollutants in the Northeast and the Midwest of the USA can increase in summer months by 5-10% by 2052 as the result of climate warming (Whiteside, 2007).

Some sources of greenhouse gases pollute the air. For example, the combustion of fossil fuel is one of the largest sources of emissions of both greenhouse gases and air pollution. Such pollutants as coal dust, ozone, and substances, participating in their formation, promote warming and, therefore, belong to the short-lived pollutants, exerting their impact on climate. Although the reduction of the volume of greenhouse gases emissions can significantly reduce air pollution, some measures for the decrease in the impact on the climate, especially in the power and the industry, can lead to air deterioration. Among the examples of such adverse effects, there is the use of biomass and biofuel for the transport and heating of houses.

The Economic, Social, and Health Impacts of Air Pollution in the Region

Air pollution in the Valley causes losses to the economy of the region in numerous ways. Thus, it claims the lives of people, reduces the working capacity of the population, complicates the production of goods, important for society, reduces the capability of ecosystems to perform the functions necessary for people, and requires the costs for the recovery and compensation of damage (Zhao et al., 2011). The economic damage from the premature death of people is the result of air pollution, substantially owing to the increase in the number of cars. The reduction of air pollution is the reasonable long-term capital investment that promotes the achievement of several purposes of development, bringing notable results. The social impact of air pollution includes the impossibility for people to be physically and socially active due to the high concentrations of contaminated substances in the air, which threatens human health. People are limited in their sports activities as well as any open-air social activities since air pollution forces them to lead a more isolated way of life.

There are more and more scientific proofs of the alarming connections between air pollution and human health. According to the recent calculations of Cisneros et al. (2010), air pollution has a more significant effect on the development of basic non-infectious diseases than it was considered earlier. It is the biggest factor influencing the incidence caused by the environment (Cisneros et al., 2010). Air pollution causes and aggravates several illnesses, from asthma to oncologic, respiratory diseases, and heart diseases.

The Existing Policies in the Struggle with Air Pollution

California’s Central Valley is one of the areas in the USA with the highest level of air pollution. The local and national authorities take the necessary measures aimed at the reduction of the level of air pollution in the region. Several decades ago, cars, oil refineries, and waste incineration furnaces in the yards of houses vented greenhouse gases and solid particles into the atmosphere (Whiteside, 2007). However, changes became possible due to the new technologies and strict restrictions for the automobile and industrial emissions operating at present.

Special measures can lower the level of air pollution in the Valley. Firstly, it is necessary to liquidate the inefficient two-stroke engines in lawnmowers. Secondly, it is better to substitute polluting diesel auto trucks with cars with pure engines. Moreover, it is preferable to introduce restrictions for the heavy traffic in the days of strong smog and to control the quality of air as well as to inform the public about it.

California’s authorities appeal to entrepreneurs and investors for the implementation of an ecologically friendly policy. Such a policy promotes the creation of new workplaces and makes the air cleaner. However, the real progress occurred after the implementation of catalytic converters, reducing the toxicity of exhaust gases of cars. The mitigation strategies aimed at the reduction of air pollution levels include the decrease of greenhouse gases emissions, the advanced technologies for transport and electric networks, and the protection of green zones, like parks and forests (Whiteside, 2007). All these strategies are aimed at strengthening the health of people.


To sum up, the main toxic substances, which are constantly found in the air of industrial cities, include the oxides of sulfur, nitrogen, carbon, oxidizers, and different kinds of dust. Except for the specified connections, highly toxic connections are formed as the result of the chemical or photochemical transformation of toxic substances. The processes of oxidation are influenced by ultraviolet rays, ozone presence, and the humidity of the air. This essay has focused on the air pollution in California’s Central Valley. The paper gave a general overview of the air pollutants regulated by various local, state, and federal rules and the sources and variations of these pollutants. Apart from that, the impacts of climate change on pollution levels, the economic, social, and health impact of air pollution as well as the current policies and mitigation strategies addressing the pollution problem in California’s Central Valley have been also covered by the essay.

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