San Diego County’s most polluted neighborhoods could get new air monitors
Chicano Park in Barrio Logan is shown beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge on July 9, 2018. (Megan Wood/inewsource)

San Diego County’s most polluted neighborhoods could get new air monitors

Some of San Diego County’s most polluted neighborhoods could get 25 new air quality monitoring stations by the end of the year.

County air pollution officials are asking the state for funding to put the monitors in Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights, Logan Heights, parts of National City, and parts of Otay Mesa and San Ysidro. Officials hope the testing program will provide more information about the level of air pollution in these neighborhoods.

About 142,000 people in San Diego County live in some of the most polluted areas in the state for diesel emissions. Diesel pollution has the greatest cancer risk of any air toxin.

They would be in addition to eight air pollution monitors that are located throughout the county from Oceanside to Chula Vista to Alpine. These monitors measure things such as vehicle exhaust, ozone and weather patterns.

Officials say the focus for the community monitoring devices would be diesel emissions, which contain toxic chemicals such as benzene and toluene. Unlike the eight existing monitors, which measure air pollutants on a regional level, the new system would be at the street level, “next to big roads, next to industries and things like that,” said Jon Adams, assistant manager of the San Diego County Air Pollution Control District.

Community monitoring is “a supplement on a finer and more granular scale, looking closer at neighborhoods,” Adams said.

The targeted neighborhoods have some of the highest levels of diesel emissions in the state, according to monitoring data from the California Environmental Protection Agency. Studies have shown long-term exposure to diesel pollution poses the highest risk of cancer than any other air contaminant. It can also cause health problems for people with allergies and asthma.

The county Board of Supervisors enacted a climate action plan earlier this year to outline steps that will be taken to reduce these emissions and others. The steps include increasing the use of sustainable fuel sources such as electric vehicles and renewable diesel fuel.

The community air monitors will help officials decide what other pollution controls are needed, Adams said.

“With the community monitoring, we’ll find additional areas where we could do emission reductions we don’t know about yet,” he said.

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The new community system stems from a bill the Legislature passed last year to give additional money to counties to monitor air quality. The state’s fiscal 2019 budget allocated $265 million to the program. California Air Resources Board spokeswoman Lindsay Buckley said the amount of funding for each county will depend on community needs.

The board will select up to 10 communities in September from all of the counties that submit recommendations.

A definition for “community” is still to be decided, Buckley said. So even though San Diego County has designated two communities — one with Barrio Logan, Sherman Heights, Logan Heights and portions of National City, and the other with Otay Mesa and San Ysidro — the state board could decide to just fund Barrio Logan, she said.

“There’s a lot of disadvantaged communities in the state, so we have to understand that,” Adams said. “We’re hopeful that our communities are selected.”

Regardless of September’s decision, some San Diego neighborhoods are already being helped by money from the state. The Air Resources Board awarded almost $1 million in grants to the San Ysidro nonprofit Casa Familiar and to the National City nonprofit  Environmental Health Coalition.

The grants will be used for programs to increase community awareness on local air pollution issues. Casa Familiar will receive $492,269, and the Environmental Health Coalition $500,000.

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About Nicole Tyau:

Nicole Tyau is an intern at inewsource. To contact her with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email nicoletyau [at] inewsource [dot] org.