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Air quality flags do more than flutter at school
Lead custodian Ronnie LeNay helps Mossdale School fifth grader Michael Wallace and seventh grader Taylor Gapuz get ready to raise the green air quality flag for the first time on Thursday. - photo by HIME ROMERO

LATHROP – Brian Terrell knows what the air can be like on a scorching summer day.

The Mossdale School 8th grader – who plays football for the Lathrop Jr. Spartans – has spent August afternoons in the sun and felt the thick air that comes from car exhaust, Bay Area pollution that migrates and particulate matter from agricultural sources.

And it only makes pulling in air even harder after doing sprints, breaking through a hole and dashing towards the end zone or grinding away as part of a defensive set.

But there might be something that can change the way that staff, coaches and even parents approach air quality in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

On Thursday morning members of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District were on hand to unveil their flag system that Mossdale School will begin incorporating as part of their daily routine. Along with the American and California flags, a colored flag that denotes the air quality for the day will be visible for all who visit the site to see.

 Selection of the daily flag comes from a real-time software program that can be accessed via the internet and will notify the school of any periodic changes throughout the day.

“What I think is great about it is that at 8 a.m. parents will pull in, drop their kids off, and see the flag. When they come back they can see how it changed and respond to the air pollution,” said San Joaquin County Supervisor Leroy Ornelas. “It’s a great way to let parents know about what’s going on in that regard.”

And awareness is only one of benefits that the program affords. Support from a variety of local health organizations – including the American Lung Association and Health Plan of San Joaquin – hope to bring scenarios related to air pollution, like asthma and other breathing conditions, to light.

The other factor, which focuses on prevention, is a major portion of the program that organizers hope will take hold with the students and spread into their homes.

Because pollution is migratory, what is discharged from the Northern San Joaquin Valley – from places like Stockton, Manteca and Modesto – naturally follows the air flows down toward Fresno. The pollution there continues on toward Bakersfield and sits in a bowl at the base of the Tehachapi range.

What can end up happening, especially when bad ozone days are included in the mix, are outdoor sporting events – even Friday night football games – can be cancelled because of the poor air quality.

But with 38 schools in the local area incorporating the flag system into their day-to-day operations, organizers hope that the efforts of the district are not only recognized but supported as the fight to continue to improve the air quality in California’s Central Valley continues.

“We learned about how the bad air affects kids that have asthma, and how the colored flags will help people know when the air is bad,” said Mossdale 8th grader Bernamay Siano. “I think that it’s a good idea and it should help people try to not pollute the air so much.”