California Border Community Tackles Air Pollution Crisis, Unveils First of 40 Real-Time Data Monitors

What do you do when your children can’t breathe? In Imperial County, which has the highest asthma-related hospitalization rate in the state, you take action. Yesterday, MFN member Comité Cívico del Valle, community members, and research partners in California’s Imperial County unveiled the first of up to 40 new air pollution monitors that will be installed across the county this year in an effort to identify hazardous pollution “hot spots” near vulnerable populations.

The project is an innovative approach to engaging local residents in scientific data collection. County residents formed a community steering committee, which has played a key role, from project design to implementation.

The new network of air monitors launched this morning with a ribbon cutting at Brawley Union High School—where Social Studies Chair Jose Flores and his students earlier helped to determine the location of the first monitor and to install it.

“Our involvement with this project has really enriched the students’ awareness of community issues beyond the scope of a textbook,” Flores said.
The installation is part of a 4-year, $2 million study funded by the National Institutes of Health and undertaken through a collaboration between the local organization Comité Cívico del Valle, the Public Health Institute’s California Environmental Health Tracking Program and researchers at the University of Washington, along with other partners.
“As parents and families, we want accurate, readily available information about our air quality so we can protect ourselves,” said Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comité Cívico del Valle. “This network of monitors will contribute to existing air quality monitoring efforts by providing detailed data at the local level that families and city and school officials need to develop action plans for the community, both in helping avoid exposure on days when the air quality is particularly hazardous and in identifying long-term strategies to improve public health.”
For decades, Imperial County has exceeded the state standard for air quality measures such as PM₁₀. Smaller than the width of a single human hair, these suspended particulates are so tiny, they can penetrate into the respiratory tract and cause significant health problems such as asthma, decreased lung function and respiratory disease. Imperial County not only has the highest rate of asthma-related hospitalizations, the rate of school-aged children visiting the emergency room for asthma is more than twice the state average.
Yet this county which spans over 4,000 square miles has only 5 air pollution monitors. These regulatory monitors measure ambient levels of air pollution but do not provide the real-time, detailed measurements needed to pinpoint hazardous locations.
Researchers at the California Environmental Health Tracking Program and the University of Washington will analyze the measurements of particulate matter from each of the new, low-cost monitors and generate highly-detailed maps of the county’s air pollution by location and time – providing local residents with an accurate picture of air pollution hot spots near vulnerable populations throughout the county.
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.
“Currently, this community is unable to identify locations of greatest concern when it comes to air quality, which is a major impediment to informing health-related policies and practices,” said Galatea King, the health surveillance director at the California Environmental Health Tracking Program. “We are working with them to change that, by developing a scientifically rigorous process to ensure that the information communities get about local levels of pollution is as accurate and actionable as possible.”
“The air pollution crisis in our community will only become more severe with climate change. We want to make it impossible to ignore,” said Olmedo.

Comité Cívico del Valle

Comité Cívico del Valle, Inc (CCV) was founded in 1987 in Imperial County, California with the endeavor of improving the lives of low-income families through a broad range of approaches including civic classes and community participation in research projects.

California Environmental Health Tracking Program

The California Environmental Health Tracking Program (CEHTP) is a program of the Public Health Institute, in partnership with the California Department of Public Health. The mission of CEHTP is to provide data and information on diseases and environmental threats to inform environmental and public health programs, research, and policies.

The Public Health Institute
The Public Health Institute, an independent nonprofit organization, is dedicated to promoting health, well-being and quality of life for people throughout California, across the nation and around the world.

The University of Washington School of Public Health

The University of Washington School of Public Health is dedicated to education to prepare outstanding, innovative, and diverse public health leaders and scientists; research to advance public health science and policies; and service to promote the health and well-being of communities locally, nationally, and globally.