I can think of no better place than California’s San Joaquin Valley when it comes to trying to answer the question: Could student lung health stand to be better protected? The answer is, of course, yes. In the Valley, one in five is an asthma sufferer and Valley cities consistently rank among the nation’s worst for both fine particulate matter (PM 2.5 – particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers across) and ozone pollution.
I can’t help but be reminded of the warnings: Air Alerts initiated by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District and the news releases related to such at the opening of the school year which, incidentally, was Mon., Aug. 17, 2015 in the Valley. These news releases are a familiar refrain.
In this Aug. 19, 2015 news release the air district writes: “Although May through July 2015 had times of good atmospheric dispersion from passing storms, it also had a number of high pressure stagnation events with soaring triple-digit temperatures, plentiful sunshine and stagnant wind flow that all contributed to the potential formation of high concentrations of ozone.”
“To ensure that this clean air trend continues during the Back-to-School season, the Valley Air District may call Air Alerts when conditions such as increased emissions, high temperatures and stagnant air flows are favorable for ozone accumulation. During an Air Alert episode, which may last several days, residents and businesses are urged to reduce vehicle emissions by driving less, refraining from idling their vehicles, carpooling or vanpooling and avoiding the use of drive-through services. Other measures, such as shifting ozone-creating activities, including lawn maintenance to early mornings, can also help offset rising ozone levels.”
Now I know, logistically speaking, canceling school on account of injurious air pollution isn’t easy. However, on days when there exists thick fog, imposed regionally, are what are known as “foggy day schedules.” Oftentimes, schools are closed until such time that the fog lifts or thins. This is done in the interest of both student and staff safety. But, what about the canceling of school sessions in the interest of both student and staff health? I have coined a term for this even: “smoggy day schedules.”
Why not smoggy day schedules? I mean wouldn’t such a program get the message across that polluted air is a serious issue and one not to be taken lightly? Moreover, when air is heavy with ozone or particulates, by cutting down on school-related driving, while it may not lessen the amount of pollution that’s in the air already, at least school-related transportation activity would not be adding to the problem.
In regard to ozone and smog, it usually peaks in late afternoon when students are let out of school; the time they are on their way back home, to sports practice, other after-school activities or whatever. This is exactly the time when the air pollution problem not be added to, not to mention that student health should also be taken into consideration so as not to jeopardize such, as may be the case with aerobic activity that is being conducted during these times like with track-and-field and cross-country running events. I already expressed how I felt about some Friday night football games in other posts, so I’ll refrain from doing that again here.
As a matter of fact, related to this very thing, on Mon., Aug. 17th, on a day with some of the highest ozone readings of the summer (all Valley monitoring stations except for Edison reported exceedances of the “Daily Max 8 Hr Overlapping Avg Ozone – State Data, Seven Day Display Ending 8/17/2015”), on one local broadcast news segment, the Valley’s sweltering heat and pollution were the focus. A high school football coach was interviewed and I kept hearing how student participation in football practice was being closely monitored and how practice was being made less intense and how water breaks were a regular feature and how this was all being done with student safety in mind. Not one time was there any mention from the same coach of student health. That seemed odd. It can plainly and simply be seen what the emphasis was on.
What schools do a good job of doing on the other hand is displaying hoisted flags on school property reflective of the condition of outside air. These flags are color-coded: green, for good air quality; yellow, for moderate air quality; orange, for air quality unhealthy for sensitive groups; red, for unhealthy air quality; etc. That, at least, is better than no such program at all and it’s a good first step. But, more could definitely be done.
Now I know that cross-country meets are typically held in the fall. I will always have a difficult time getting my head around the idea why this is so. I just cannot understand why people in school districts in positions of authority cannot make a change and schedule these activities for springtime when air quality, as a general rule, is much cleaner, healthier. Furthermore, in its place, maybe less strenuous physical activities could be planned for outdoors during autumn. Perhaps air quality and environmental organizations could approach and work with school district officials in trying to implement constructive changes if such has not already been done.
So, yes, much more can and should be done to better protect student lung health during times when the problem of polluted air is quite pronounced. If I were confident that everything within the school’s power to make student health more of a priority is being done, I wouldn’t be raising the matter now.
Image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute