USA — A wildfire breaks out in the Sierra Nevada, the wind shifts to the west and, within hours, smoke settles in around your child’s school.
Starting next fall, air pollution officials hope to be able to electronically notify hundreds of schools up and down the San Joaquin Valley as soon as air quality dips to the point where children should be kept indoors.
These notifications will be based on hourly readings from nearby air pollution stations, including two in Stockton.
“Nobody else has anything like this. Not for schools,” said David Lighthall, health science advisor for the Valley Air Pollution Control District in Fresno.
For several years, the district has invited schools to raise a color-coded flag in the morning, indicating how severe air pollution is expected to be that day.
An hour-by-hour system will allow for more flexibility, Lighthall said.
Teachers don’t want to keep students indoors more than they have to, since there is so much concern about childhood obesity and the need for outdoor exercise.
And yet, children’s developing lungs are especially vulnerable to the tiny particles of pollution known as PM2.5, a big problem in the winter, as well as harmful summertime ozone.
“There is increased pressure from various agencies and the public to kind of redirect the ship when it comes to activities of children and ramping back up on exercise and recess,” Lighthall said.
While the air in the north Valley is generally cleaner than points south, federal standards are tightening, meaning a likelihood of more “unhealthy” days up and down the Valley.
“We don’t want it to be a hardship,” said Susie Rico of the American Lung Association. “We still have to protect students and staff.”
More than 650 schools participate in the flag program, including 40 in San Joaquin County, the association says.
The district last week approved a $41,672 contract with the University of California, San Francisco at Fresno, to help develop the new program. It is expected to launch in August with the start of the new school year.