Taking clean air into their own hands

Soon, residents of the Kern County city of Arvin will be taking the job of monitoring their contaminated air into their own hands, the Bakersfield Californian first reported Sept. 15.

With the training and guidance of El Cerrito-based non-profit Global Community Monitor, Arvin residents will begin testing their own air quality. Using a grassroots air monitoring program known as “bucket brigades,” residents will test the air they breathe for particulate matters 2.5 and 10 – both of which can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. Residents can also use the monitors to find out what pollution sources are emitting those particles.

Arvin, which is located at the base of the San Joaquín Valley, has earned national recognition for having some of the worst air quality in the country. Residents have told me about the high incidences of asthma and Valley fever in their city, which is 89.9 percent Latino.

The air monitor in Arvin was recently moved, resulting in improved air quality readings –but residents say there have been few actual improvements.

“We know that Arvin is one of the most affected communities in the nation,” said Gustavo Aguirre, of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment in Delano. “Now that the monitor that they used to have was moved away from the community, it looks like the air is good in Arvin, and that’s not the case. This is something the community really, really needs.”

The bucket brigade project will inform Arvin residents of the true quality of their air, and allow them to advocate for changes, said Denny Larson, executive director of Global Community Monitor. In past campaigns, he said, the project helps increase community participation in air quality issues, and increases involvement with regulatory agencies.

“The community is going to be setting the campaign debate about what specific things they want to get done in Arvin,” he said. “The bucket brigade is a tool to help the community achieve its goals. It’s largely driven by what they want to do.”

An initial meeting for the project will be held next month.

And here’s a little more good news: In the second year of this project, Global Community Monitor will explore expanding the bucket brigade project to other Valley communities that breathe polluted air. Stay tuned for more information!

Previously on tools for community advocacy:

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