San Joaquin County is about to be hit with a double whammy — stagnant polluted air and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District Tuesday warned conditions are expected to remain cold, dry and stagnant through the middle of next week. That is expected to lead to an accumulation of particulate matter pollution (PM2.5) resulting in higher pollution concentrations from San Joaquin County south to Kern County.
By the time pollution is expected to be at its worst next week, Manteca Unified will have state-of-the-art air scrubbers in all of its 1,400 classrooms. That means some of the safest air to breath in Manteca, Lathrop, and Weston Ranch may very well be inside buildings at the 33 Manteca Unified campuses.
The air quality warning came as the school district is nearing the mid-point of its $2.8 million endeavor to place the portable units that resemble a small refrigerator on wheels into all of the district’s classrooms.
“Dealing with air quality problems is what the units are designed for,” noted Manteca Unified School District community outreach coordinator Victoria Brunn.
The Carrier OptiClean units — designed for use in medical settings — will allow classroom air to recirculate triple what the Centers for Disease Control standards consider optimum to scrub air of COVID-19 droplets.
Experts call for optimum conditions to minimize the risk of COVID-19 being spread in a typical 900-square-foot classroom that involve air being recirculated twice in an hour. The Carrier OptiClean units will be set to recirculate air six times per hour using HEPA filters that capture particles as small as .03 microns.
The district in making the investment not only saw it as a way to provide a safer environment for in-class learning during the pandemic but as a way to also reduce the spreading of other respiratory illnesses such as colds and flu that typically account for the highest absenteeism rates in schools.
They also saw their value in keeping classroom air clean when smoke from perennial wildfires gets trapped in the San Joaquin Valley air basin making breathing difficult for many including younger children.
Brunn noted the fact the district is installing the units during the first air quality warning of the year underscores how important the units will be to assuring student and staff health long after the pandemic ebbs.
Air quality officials indicate strong nighttime inversions and minimal winds are trapping pollutants on the Valley floor.
“Stable conditions like those we are currently experiencing are one of the main challenges the San Joaquin Valley faces during the winter months,” said Jaime Holt, Valley Air District Chief Communications Officer. “This causes residential wood smoke to stay in your neighborhood, impacting the health of you and your neighbors.”
Residential wood burning is one of the Valley’s largest sources of wintertime PM2.5 emissions and can have a direct effect on neighborhood air quality and public health. The District warns that adherence to the Check Before You Burn Program is critical to prevent air pollution from reaching unhealthy levels and asks that residents avoid heating their homes by burning wood, if possible.
Wood burning curtailments do not apply to natural gas devices. Residences in areas with no natural gas service or where burning wood is the sole source of heat are exempt. Areas where propane tanks are used are considered to be without natural gas service. Outdoor wood burning devices at all residences are still subject to daily restrictions, regardless of exemption status.
Daily burn information is available by visiting www.valleyair.org/cbyb, by calling 1-800-SMOG INFO (766-4463), or by downloading the free “Valley Air” app on your mobile device.