Program Launched Locally to Address Asthma and Air Pollution Problems

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Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comite Civico del Valle, launched the IVAN Air Monitoring program at Heber Elementary School Friday morning.

HEBER – Valley communities will now have the opportunity to be more involved in air pollution monitoring with the help from the National Institute of Health (NIH), who developed an air monitoring program called IVAN that was launched Friday morning at the Heber Elementary School, home to one of the current community air monitors.

IVAN (Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods) Air Monitoring, is a community air monitoring website that provides real-time air quality information. It was developed as part of an innovative four-year, $2 million air monitoring project funded by the NIH and undertaken through a collaboration between local organizations of Comite Civico del Valle, the Public Health Institute’s California Environmental Health Tracking Program, and researchers at the University of Washington, along with other partners.

“In Imperial County we have public health issues, like the Salton Sea, that we’ve been aware of locally for a long time” said Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comite Civico del Valle.  “Having state and federal resources devoted to addressing these are critical, but we also want to know that these investments actually make a positive difference for our community and our environment. I feel that we are really innovating with this project and hopefully helping other communities in California and throughout the United States.”

The IVAN website displays current particulate pollution levels at each monitor within the community network. The website also provides recommendations for reducing exposures for each air quality level, summary statistics for air quality at each monitor, and the option to sign up for email alerts on bad air quality days.

Currently, IVAN is used by various schools who participate in the flag program such as Heber Elementary School. Participating schools display representative colored flags to increase awareness of current air quality conditions by children, parents, school personnel, and the community. The schools also adjust their students’ outdoor activities to reduce risk of air pollution exposure and asthma attacks when pollution levels are high.

“Having the IVAN Air Monitoring program here (at Heber Elementary School) has made a positive impact on our students,” said Patty Marcial, principal of Heber Elementary School. “It has made us aware to be on the alert if the air quality is not in the best of conditions. This gives us an opportunity to take precautionary measures, alert our teachers and even be prepared that we will have some students that it will trigger their asthma, and more than anything, we can keep them indoors, should that be the case. This has brought an awareness that we didn’t have before.”

In addition to Heber and Meadows elementary schools, 12 other public schools in the county have agreed to host air monitors. The first community air monitor was launched last May at Brawley Union High School, and since then, the project team has installed 33 of 40 monitors, aiming to complete the network by the end of the year. The number of monitors sited at schools reflects the project’s unique effort to incorporate both scientific and community priorities into deciding where to put the monitors.

Michael Jerrett, a professor of environmental sciences at UCLA who has dedicated nearly 20 years to studying the effects of air pollution, said globally, nationally and regionally in California, air pollution is the leading public health risk factor.

“The World Health Administration estimated that 3.7 million people per year die pre- maturely from air pollution exposure,” said Jerrett. “Recent studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates more than 200,000 Americans die prematurely every year due to air pollution and in California, over 20,000 per year, all attributed to air exposure.”

Jerrett said IVAN allows the community to have a better understanding of the air quality on a daily basis resulting in better decision-making now and in the future.

“Air pollution shortens our lives and this is something we need to be aware of,” said Jarrett.

The IVAN Air Monitoring program can now be accessed online at www.ivan-imperial.org via a computer or cell phone.