highway 101
City official said the families living near highways suffer from poor air quality. Image of Highway 101 from Google Earth.

It’s not breaking news that air pollution impacts low-income neighborhoods and communities of color disproportionately. Mission Local wrote eight years ago that the Mission had the worst air quality, and the highest overall negative health indicators in San Francisco. 

The latest data indicates a similar result: Communities of color are exposed to 55 percent more nitrogen dioxide than white communities, according to Aclima, a company that measured the region’s air quality, block-by-block. 

A report released last month shows the disparities in exposure to pollution based on race and income. Screenshot from Aclima.

The map shows that the Mission District is one of the city’s neighborhoods with more people of color, poverty, renters — and higher pollutant levels, especially nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.

“San Francisco families suffer from poor air quality near freeways, such as 101 and 280,” said Supervisor Ahsha Safaí. At a Tuesday press conference in advance of the fifth annual California Clean Air Day on Oct. 5, he noted that this is not only an environmental issue, but also a public health issue.

Along with speakers including Department of the Environment director Tyrone Jue, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and Brian Sheridan from Coalition for Clean Air, Safaí outlined small, everyday steps San Franciscans can take to reduce this city’s air pollution. 

Tyrone Jue, Ahsha Safaí, Jacquie Chavez, Nancypili Hernandez and Brian Sheridan from left to right. Photo by Chuqin Jiang.

Nancypili Hernandez from the Latino Task Force said the access to fresh air is vital to Latinx communities, as many Latinx tenants live in close quarters and high-density buildings. To combat the effects, the Latino Task Force promotes family gardening and biking.

A gardening event hosted by the Latino Task Force and Excelsior Strong will be held at 4834 Mission St. near Onondaga Street, starting at 11 a.m. on Saturday. 

And on Thursday, the group is collaborating with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, to teach kids to bike. Five bicycles for children under eight years old will be given out through a raffle.

This is the first time the Latino Task Force has participated in California Clean Air Day, as it was preoccupied with responding to Covid-19 last year. 

In December, 2021, Mayor London Breed announced the 2040 net-zero emission goal for the city, which means reducing emissions 90 percent below 1990 levels and absorbing the other 10 percent through natural solutions, like trees and green spaces. In 2019, the city’s carbon footprint was reduced by 41 percent from 1990 levels.

Jue noted that the two biggest sources of emissions are buildings and transportation. Natural gas, diesel and gasoline are all fossil fuels.

Data from San Francisco Department of the Environment.

Individual actions include taking more public transportation, bringing a lunch to work, planting a home garden, and switching to a cleaner non-wood burning stove. The full video is available here.

“Try to educate yourself, try to think about the small things that you can do. That will really make a difference here in our city in the Bay Area,” said Safaí.

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INTERN DATA REPORTER. Chuqin has two degrees in data journalism and she is passionate about making data more accessible to readers. Before arriving in the Mission, she covered small business and migratory birds in New York City while learning to code and design at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. She loves coastal cities, including SF and her hometown Ningbo.

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  1. So we have a heavy topic to discuss about pollution being pumped from the freeways to the residents of the Mission. Instead of presenting solutions building walls to block the noise and pollution like in the suburbs, they tell Latino families to ride their bikes and plant a garden. What folly. Perhaps they can catch butterflies in nets while they are at it. Do your job Department of the Environment! Find out how they are protecting populations in the suburbs and bring that knowledge to SanFrancisco. I suppose next they will instruct the people that live near the Hunterspoint Shipyard to start digging the dirt to get closer to the lead in the ground.

  2. Nonprofits yet again provide a veneer of cover to government so that it can pretend that it gives a damn.

    Gardening and cycling are two of my favorite activities. But let’s not delude ourselves that cycling and gardening will have any impact on vehicular traffic, diesel trucking, on I-80, I-280 and US-101. Nor will cycling and gardening have any impact on arterial emission sources like Guerrero and South Van Ness.

    The neoliberal nonprofit intervention is functioning to intercept and neutralize demands for real change on transportation patterns to make the Mission safer by shifting the conversation from heavy political lifts and in turn responsibility from industrial scale emitters to the conduct of individuals.

    YIMBY shifts focus from systems and structures of power to powerless individuals. The urbanist warriors on cars shift focus from systems and structures of power onto drivers. Now the nonprofiteers are getting in on the game, relegating their claimed constituencies to toxic air, urging them to the equivalent of taking an aspirin for cancer.

    This, from the crowd that did nothing to move Latin@ Mission resident, essential/expendable workers, from crowded housing during the pandemic. Nonprofiteer ghouls is what we’ve got here.

    The sooner that SF’s office economy crashes and with it city revenues, the sooner we’ll get to watch the caged death match of city funded nonprofiteers fighting for city funding. After the nonprofits are weakened, perhaps the space might be cleared for residents to organize to demand more than bicycling and gardening fig leaves.