"What's in the Air's" air quality sensor collecting data underneath the freeway bridge at Chicano Park in Barrio Logan. Photo by Camelle Sison

by Camelle Sison | SDSU student

Chicano Park in Barrio Logan is a place where families, kids and those who love to exercise get a chance to enjoy the outdoors. However, the proximity of the park to the freeway and nearby industrial sites may have long-term health effects for those who visit it.

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Key points:
1. Chicano Park in Barrio Logan is right under the freeway of Interstate 5
2. Industrial work in the community affects the air quality for those who come to the park
3. There is a risk of developing health problems such as asthma

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, airborne particulate matter can be emitted into the air from cars and trucks. This particle pollution can lead to health problems, such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.

Jose Vergara volunteers at Monarch, a K-12 school in Barrio Logan that is a public-private partnership between the San Diego County Office of Education and the nonprofit Monarch School Project. Vergara said he knows students and families who live near the park and claim they have gotten sick because of the air.

“All the construction work, everything. I think the air is messed up,” said Vergara.

A "What's in the Air" air quality sensor in Chicano Park, in Barrio Logan. Photo by Camelle Sison
A “What’s in the Air” air quality sensor in Chicano Park, in Barrio Logan. Photo by Camelle Sison

Duane Wright is also a volunteer and works closely with Vergara at Monarch School.

Wright and Vergara like to walk to a market across the street from Chicano Park for lunch. Wright said there is a noticeable difference with the air quality there and in the community overall.

“I can tell the difference,” said Wright. “I can look at the air and see the difference. The thickness in the air. It’s cloudier here.”

Asthma and CalEnviroScreen 2.0

According to the American Lung Association, six out of 10 Americans live in areas where air pollution reaches unhealthy levels. Bad air can worsen lung diseases like asthma. It harms lung tissue directly and weakens important defenses.

Eva Lopez passes through Chicano Park every day to get to the bus stop from her school. Her two oldest kids have asthma and she said it got worse when they were living by the park for five years between Harrison Avenue and Sampson Street. Lopez and her family have moved and she said her childrens’ asthma has been better since then.

Lopez said she can sometimes smell fumes when she waits at the park bench.

“It stinks,” Lopez said.

Joe Jarl is a construction contractor in Barrio Logan, working a block away from Chicano Park.

“The asphalt is something you can definitely see and smell over here,” said Jarl.

He said he can  smell the diesel from industrial companies when he is working.

The California Communities Environmental Health Screen Tool (CalEnviroScreen 2.0), released in 2014 by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, was designed to analyze multiple pollution sources in California communities. Based on its analysis, Barrio Logan’s pollution burden was ranked within the 96-100% percentile.

CalEnviroScreen also reports that Barrio Logan is ranked high for having asthma or developing asthma.

CalEnviroScreen Score Report by census tract for the Barrio Logan area.
CalEnviroScreen Score Report by census tract for the Barrio Logan area.

CJ Rooks, a San Diego resident, and his fiancée like to visit Chicano park to admire the artwork with their 9-year-old son who likes playing on the jungle gym. Rooks said that parents bring their children to play at this park every day and air pollution is the last thing on their minds.

After the reporter informed the family about the air quality statistics, they said they do not plan to visit Chicano Park anymore. Rooks said he does not want his fiancée, son or himself developing asthma.

“It’s a park and you think it’s a safe place for your kid. You don’t think about the freeway bridges above you because it seems normal,” Rooks said. “You don’t realize particles are flying in the air from the freeway and reaching those who are playing at the park.”

Rooks did not know about the link between bad air and asthma until he learned about it from the reporter. “That’s scary,” he said.

[The class project’s air quality sensor collecting data underneath the freeway bridges at Chicano Park. Photos taken by Camelle Sison. ]

Before visiting a location such as Chicano Park, the EPA recommends checking the air quality forecasts to gauge how clean the air is for the day at www.airnow.gov.

Click here for more from “What’s in the Air”

Camelle Sison was enrolled in San Diego State’s “What’s in the Air” sensor journalism class in Spring 2015.

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