While Guadalupe’s first air quality monitors reported healthy air quality levels, there’s still a lot to learn about the city’s air quality and other pollutants that concern residents, Alhan Diaz-Correa told the Sun.
“The Santa Maria Valley area is a big agricultural [community] with a lot of farmworkers and farmworker families and schools and public areas surrounded by agriculture. For decades people have been concerned about air quality and if it’s impacting their health,” said Diaz-Correa, a senior climate projects associate for the Community Environmental Council.
The air quality monitors came to fruition through a California community air monitoring grant that invests state dollars in improving public health and the environment in disadvantaged communities like Guadalupe, he said. CEC, in partnership with Santa Barbara County nonprofit Blue Tomorrow, installed four air quality monitors at Guadalupe’s schools and LeRoy Park and will be funded until March 2025.
“The takeaway is the air quality index was really good. Throughout the year we saw that Guadalupe had good air quality,” he said. “This creates a baseline and we can compare it to this year when we continue in 2024.”
The monitors, which tracked air quality data from January until September, found that the ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter levels in Guadalupe’s air were found at “good” Air Quality Index levels—meaning it’s safe for everyone to be outside, he said.
The nonprofits shared the data with Guadalupe residents on Nov. 17 to give people access to air quality data, answer questions, and provide resources to learn more about pollution and steps to take if they are impacted. While data demonstrated healthy air quality levels, it doesn’t account for pesticide drift.
“One thing important for us to figure out is air pollutants like ozone and these compounds are regulated as air pollution by the [Air Pollution Control District] this is what goes into the Air Quality Index. Pesticides, and pesticide drift is regulated by the Agricultural Commission and not regulated as air pollution. That has been one of the things we have been learning,” Diaz-Correa said. “Even though this project is focused on air quality, we know community members are concerned about pesticides.”
According to a 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment from Dignity Health, chloropicrin is the most commonly used pesticide in Santa Barbara County, which is listed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as a lung damaging agent and is severely irritating to the lungs, eyes, and skin. In 2018, more than 1.2 million pounds of chloropicrin was used in the county.
“Chloropicrin is used as a soil fumigant and historically was used as a chemical warfare agent (military designation, ‘PS’) and a riot control agent,” the report stated. “Chloropicrin (PS) has the characteristics of tear gas and was used in large quantities during World War I and stockpiled during World War II, but is no longer authorized for military use.”
Along with continuing to monitor air quality, the CEC and Blue Tomorrow will conduct limited soil sampling to test for pesticide drift and are seeking more funding to continue monitoring air and soil quality and host community workshops to discuss the data. By the end of 2025, the CEC plans to write a community air plan to look at what kind of policy changes or questions need to be addressed by the city and community in order to make improvements.
“We’re not going to end with just monitors and data, we are supporting the community to advocate for solutions we want,” Diaz-Correa said.