Air Quality Control District addresses health concerns over fires set to protect crops near East Valley schools

Air Quality Control District addresses health concerns.

THERMAL, Calif. - "We want to make sure we as a school district can support our families and the students with giving them a healthy place to come," said David Gibbons, the Director of Child Welfare and Attendance at the Coachella Valley Unified School District.

CVUSD wants ensure thick smoke resulting from controlled burns around crop fields isn't making its way into classrooms. As soon as they get a burn notification from the district they pass it along to the schools. 

"Once we get a text or email, right away within minutes that goes to the school to let them know as early as we can that there will be a possible issue with smoke in the air the next day," Gibbons said. 

On days with high burn activity, Oasis Elementary School must turn off its heaters before 6 a.m. to prevent the vents from drawing smoke in. But that's set to change over the holiday break, when it becomes the first school in the district to receive a state-of-the-art air filtration system. 

"This new system that we're supposed to get in the next few weeks will give us the opportunity to have both heat on and a filtration system on at the same time. These filter systems are the best in the world. They're made in switzerland and this is only one part of the whole thing," Gibbons said.

Representatives from Air Quality Control wouldn't speak on camera, but tell us they're also working on increasing inspection staff to supervise the burns.  They'll also install monitors in the schools to check emission levels.

East Valley residents at the meeting are happy to hear positive changes are on the way.

"We just need to continue to embrace this as far as a collaboration. It sounds like the AQMD is ready to help out wherever they can. It sounds like some of the farmers are ready to do whatever it takes to maybe limit what they can," said Rudy Gutierrez, a resident of the east valley and representative for the community on air quality and environment issues.  

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