BRAWLEY – Comité Cívico del Valle, an organization that advocates for health and the environment, is collaborating with the California Department of Public Health’s California Environmental Health Tracking Program, the University of Washington, and others to conduct a community-based air monitoring research project in Imperial County.
The project team received funding from the National Institutes of Health to conduct this four-year project, with the long term goal of protecting the health and improving air quality for Imperial County residents.
“The information collected will be publicly available real-time or near-real time. Our monitoring will not interfere with Imperial County’s ambient air monitoring, but will focus on what’s happening in neighborhoods where residents may find greater concentrations of particulate matter,” said Luis Olmedo, Executive Director of Comité Cívico del Valle.
Air quality in Imperial County
For decades, Imperial County has exceeded the state standard for air quality measures such as PM₁₀. PM₁₀ is less than 10 micrometers in diameter is so small that they can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems. Ten micrometers is smaller than the width of a single human hair.
It comes from dust, burning, traffic, and other sources and can contribute to poor health conditions like asthma, decreased lung function, and respiratory disease. The county consistently has one of the highest asthma hospitalization and emergency room visit rates in the state for school-aged children.
In 2012, asthma hospitalizations rates were over three times the state rate and emergency room visits were more than two times the state rate for school-aged children.
Dr. Saima Khan, Associate Medical Director and Pediatrician from Clínicas de Salud del Pueblo is acutely aware of this problem, stating,“Poor air quality is a real health threat for local children and adults who suffer from a respiratory illness. It is well known to trigger asthma exacerbations and may be significantly contributing to the poor asthma control in Imperial County. Due to economic restraints, our families can’t just move away if their environment is making them sick. I’m happy to see that more will be done to understand the problem and come up with solutions. We all need to do what we can.”
Currently, there is a limited number of air pollution monitors in a county that spans over 4,000 square miles. This limits the county’s ability to identify air pollution hotspots or measure air quality in locations of greatest community concern. The lack of information is an impediment to assessing and informing policies and practices to reduce exposures and improve health in Imperial County.
“Studies like this may produce useful data to assist the County and the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District (ICAPCD) in their efforts with assessments of air quality and impact indicators. I am sure that ICAPCD will want to be involved with how data is interpreted, learn about its usefulness to show potential impacts, and consider how it can be utilized to meet the health standards based on National Ambient Air Quality Standards,” stated County Supervisor Ryan Kelley.
The current project will contribute to existing air quality monitoring efforts by deploying 40 air quality monitors throughout the county. According to Edmund Seto, Associate Professor at the University of Washington and a researcher with the project, “This study has the potential to make important scientific contributions by engaging communities to determine the placement of these scientifically validated and low-cost air quality monitors across Imperial County.”
Community residents will work with researchers to first select the locations and then set up the air quality monitors. These monitors will remain in the community after the project ends. Information about air quality from this monitoring network will be displayed on Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods (IVAN), the Imperial County community-based environmental reporting site.
State Assembly Member V. Manuel Pérez, who represents Imperial County in the State Legislature, also commended the project, “I applaud the vision of this project to engage local residents in monitoring air hazards, mapping health threats in their communities, and defining public health actions. Two years ago when this project was being conceptualized, I was pleased to express my support for the grant proposal, and I’m excited that the work is now getting started, as I believe it will make a significant impact in addressing environmental health disparities experienced by Imperial Valley communities.”
Community engaged research
The Community Air Monitoring Project will utilize an innovative approach by engaging Imperial County residents as “community scientists” throughout the project. A Community Steering Committee will play a key role in project design, implementation, and decision making. Additionally, community participants will define and map local hazards in neighborhoods of concern, prioritize locations for an air quality-monitoring network, and utilize air quality data to identify strategies to improve public health.
“As a parent of a child with asthma, it’s important to have information regarding the valley’s air quality that is accurate and readily available so that I may plan my child’s day accordingly. The data acquired from the monitors can assist city and school officials in developing action plans for the community, to be used in days when the air quality is unacceptable,” says Elizabeth Swerdfeger who is a member of the Community Steering Committee.
To learn more about this project please contact:
Comité Cívico del Valle