Of smoggy, smoky, sooty air/school-district response: What, are they kidding?!

Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in the city of Clovis, California in Fresno County, was a day like few others I’ve known – high temperatures with smoggy, smoky and sooty air. And, it wasn’t limited to just Clovis.

Whether it was Clovis, northwest Fresno or central Madera County, yesterday skies were a putrid-looking gray and the air was thick with toxic substances making breathing, at best, undesirable and, at worst, unpleasant and/or uncomfortable. Part of what I was seeing and breathing, if for but a moment when outside, can be attributed to the Rough Fire which, since July 31st, has charred tens of thousands of wooded acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains off to Fresno’s east, smoke from it having settled onto parts of the Valley floor, an unhealthy Air Alert for counties affected, strangely, curiously, wasn’t even issued.

The lack of a San-Joaquin-Valley-Air-Pollution-Control-District-issued Air Alert was, to me, at the very least, perplexing, troubling and at most, shocking. It should be noted, however, that the air district did issue a cautionary warning.

Now, I would consider myself someone of somewhat compromised respiratory health. There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not clearing my throat – sometimes, it’s an all-day deal. And, this is periodically punctuated if you will by expectorating (coughing up and out) some pretty grody-looking, yellowish-colored phlegm. Sorry. When I awoke this morning, there was more from where that stuff comes – my lungs.

Human_respiratory_system-NIH[1] (340x226)So, when I learned of Clovis Unified School District’s response to the horrendous air condition, I was stupefied. You see, I read in a local newspaper (online), that measures were taken to cancel recess and physical education and activities outside. Kudos! Immediately upon which I read where under the direction of district athletic directors (in reference to what was revealed in said newspaper) every 10 minutes, students (presumed here to be athletes) were allowed water breaks. The question is: The referred-to students, who were they, what were they doing, and why would they require breaks for water every 10 minutes, if, as was indicated, recess, physical education classes and outside activities were canceled? What else is left?

That said, what I had just read didn’t make sense to me.

In accessing the Real-time Air Advisory Network (RAAN) via the Web site of the Valley air district regarding Clovis air quality for Tues., Sept. 8, 2015, here is what I learned.

At the 10 a.m. hour, for fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), the concentration was 95 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Similarly, the concentration at the 3 p.m. hour was 76 micrograms per cubic meter, both ROAR (Real-Time Outdoor Activity Risk) Level 5 (Very Unhealthy) readings. We’re not talking unhealthy levels; we’re talking very unhealthy concentrations! Meanwhile, ozone-wise, air didn’t fare much better. At 3 p.m., ozone (O3) reached 99 parts per billion, a ROAR Level 4 on the scale, or unhealthy.

Student and staff health should never be taken lightly – never. Student and staff health especially under such adverse or worse air conditions should, without exception, be priority one!

Image above: U.S. National Institutes of Health: Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

– Alan Kandel