San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District votes to supply valley residents with in-home air purifiers to combat wildfire pollution
TULARE COUNTY – Valley residents can breathe a little easier following the launch of a Valley Air District pilot program. The project, Clean Air Rooms Program, hopes to grant free residential air purifier units to disadvantaged communities who will likely be afflicted by wildfire smoke.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Governing Board voted to launch the pilot program on Thursday, June 16. According to the air district, the program, which should open sometime in the upcoming weeks, should provide approximately 1,500 free residential air purifier units and an additional replacement filter to impoverished communities in Tulare County and throughout the Valley.
The goal of the program is to help reduce the harmful health effects of wildfire smoke amongst Valley residents but seeks to help the most vulnerable populations in particular.
Samir Sheikh, the executive director/APCO of the valley air district said the program will help residents whose homes are inundated with wildfire smoke.
“This program is designed to help families who may not otherwise be able to buy in-home air purifiers to protect their families during wildfires,” Sheikh said.
Residents within the district’s eight valley counties who reside within disadvantaged communities, as defined by CalEnviroScreen, will be able to participate and receive a portable air filtration unit to use in their home. These units will help purify the air during episodes of poor air quality. Grants awarded in the pilot phase of the program will be distributed on a “first come, first serve” basis but the district hopes to expand the program after initial launch.
Dr. Tania Pacheco-Werner, Co-Director at the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State, said that Valley residents already face poor air quality and a device such as an air purifier could help during acutely worse times.
“So many Valley residents already face significant challenges with respect to environmental and economic disparities and then are subjected to major smoke impacts during severe wildfires,” she said. “Community-facing problems like these provide much-needed tools during these critical times.”
In a well-sealed indoor environment, where windows and doors are closed and sealed tightly, HEPA air filtration devices [like the ones that will be offered under the program] can reduce particulate matter that is indoors by more than 90%. The usage of air filtration devices to create “clean air rooms” during wildfires [according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency] will ensure that homes have a dedicated space with safe indoor air quality during smoke events.
The air district stresses the importance of protection from particulate matter because it can trigger asthma attacks, aggravate chronic bronchitis and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Individuals with heart or lung disease should follow their doctors’ advice for dealing with episodes of exposure. Those with existing respiratory conditions, including COVID-19, and young children and the elderly are especially susceptible to the health effects from this form of pollution. Residents experiencing poor air quality due to wildfire smoke should move to a filtered, air-conditioned environment with windows closed. Common cloth and paper masks being used as protection from COVID-19 may not be sufficient protection from wildfire smoke inhalation. For outdoor workers and other individuals that may not be able to remain indoors, state health authorities recommend the use of N95 face masks as feasible.
For details on current and past wildfires affecting the Valley and resources to stay protected from exposure to wildfire smoke, visit the district’s Wildfire Information page at www.valleyair.org/wildfires. Additionally, individuals can access RAAN to check air quality at any Valley location on myRAAN.com or use the free “Valley Air” mobile app. People can also view the EPA’s AirNow Fire and Smoke map at http://fire.airnow.gov/ for information regarding current air quality and smoke impacts.