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SPECIAL REPORT: Imperial Valley gets a failing grade for unhealthy air quality

News 11 reporter Melissa Zaremba with why the Imperial Valley continues to struggle with air pollution and what we can do to help improve our own air quality.

IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - The American Lung Association’s annual state of the air report gave a failing grade to Imperial County for its unhealthy air quality.

According to a recent study, more than four out of 10 Americans breathe polluted air where they live and one of the most polluted cities happens to be located right here in Imperial County.

Every year the ALA report grades counties based on levels of ozone and particle pollution.

For 2022, Imperial County received a failing grade.

But this isn't the first time.

Ongoing crisis

Air quality continues to be an ongoing crisis for the valley.

“It’s kind of a number of different factors, I mean we always have wind events, and the wind events kind of exasperates situations, when we have them at the Salton Sea and we have so much of the exposed playa,” said Communications Manager for Comite Civico Del Valle Richard Brown.

Communications manager for Comite Civico Del Valle Richard Brown says location and everyday living plays a big role.

“We have hundreds of miles of unpaved roads, we have you know agricultural fields, access roads, we have canal banks and you know we have people who work in those fields every day in those canal banks kicking up dust. And that gets into our environment,” said Brown.

Brown also says other factors include the Salton Sea drying up and being near the border.

“They have a carbon monoxide from cars that from all those millions of people but they also have that, that that old style of living in and those unpaved roads, so you have all these factors that just pulled together under this shared space,” said Brown.

Struggle for farmers

With Imperial County also being a huge farming community, agricultural burn days are important when it comes to farming, but not helpful to our air.

And regulations to burn days is sometimes a struggle for farmers.

“It is quite frustrating, when there are no burn days, and we can look across the border and they're burning their wheat stubble or whatever it might be on a no burn day, and that smokes coming across and you know that's not good for anybody on either side,” said Vessey Company Jack Vessey.

Local farmer Jack Vessey says our crops and air quality are both important so they always try to balance both.

“It's important for all to understand that us in agriculture probably the best environmentalist there are, I mean, without that ground soil, water, air, everything that we do affects our crops,” said Vessey.

Observing air quality every day

Taking care of our air is key. That's why the Imperial Valley Air Pollution Control District observes the air quality every day. 

“We measure air pollution and how we determine the effects to the human health population. The standards have become more stringent, we have lowered and made them more strict so that we can improve their quality further and further as with the science improves,” said APC Division Manager for Imperial Valley Air Pollution Control District Thomas Brinkerhoff.

Making small changes and being aware is the start to improvement. 

“We've funded a number of air quality projects to do air filtration projects at schools. And what that entails is putting in higher grade air filters, through the H vac systems at the schools, which will then reduce the amount of pollution indoors, said Brinkerhoff. 

To have better air quality in Imperial County it’s important to be part of the solution by making changes in our daily lives. 

Article Topic Follows: Special Reports

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Melissa Zaremba

Melissa Zaremba joined KYMA in November 2021 and is the Chief Weather Forecaster.

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