As we go to press,
the board of governors of the El Tejon Unified School District is scheduled to
learn that data collected from March 2011 through March 2012 holds vital news
about air quality adjacent to El Tejon Middle School in Lebec.
school was built in 1939, before Highway 99 was realigned in 1966 to become
Interstate 5, right on the western boundary of the school and the playing
fields used by thousands of Mountain Community children.
Interstate 5 has
became the principal transport corridor for goods in California, with 77,000
vehicles passing the school each day. California’s Department of Transportation
says 18,000 of those are bigrig transport trucks passing just 100 feet away
from the school’s playing fields, and 250 feet from the classrooms.
As a source of
commerce, the Grapevine freeway has become a publicly subsidized gold-mine for
Tejon Ranch Corporation’s industrial complex, ‘inland port’ distribution
warehouses, truck stops, gas stations, franchise restaurants and a projected
outlet store center.
But what may be
good for commerce is not always healthy for children’s lungs, says Global
Community Monitor’s Jessica Hendricks. The nonprofit group partnered with the
Mountain Community’s TriCounty Watchdogs in a $25,000 grant last year to gather
data about the impact of the freeway traffic on air quality in Lebec. A series
of monitoring sites [see map, page 1] were selected to test PM 2.5 (particulate
matter 2.5 microns— the diameter of a hair— and above) and “EC” (elemental
carbon or ‘diesel soot’) from diesel emissions.
The monitor itself
is a canister about the size of a loaf of bread which contains an intake fan
and a filter. It can use a battery or a normal household, lowvoltage power
source for the fan.
Monitor (GCM) helped develop these “bucket brigade” monitors to use in
communities around the world where questions about air quality arise. Arvin, at
the foot of the Grapevine at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, has
now entered into a Bucket Brigade project also.
are taught to place the monitors, change and secure the “custody chain” for the
filters, change batteries for the fan, and to send the filters in
controlled-environment shipping packets to a certified laboratory for analysis.
The test results are then sent to a third-party scientist for interpretation.
On the mountain,
ETUSD Superintendent Katie Kleier said in 2011 that she was opposed to allowing
the monitor to be placed on school grounds.
In June 2011, under
pressure from members of the board who favored knowing the facts, Kleier, with
ETUSD attorneys, compiled a proposed contract containing expensive
“deal-killer” provisions, such as requiring TriCounty Watchdogs to secure a
liability insurance policy large enough to rebuild the entire school—many
millions of dollars.
The contract also
said a 6-foot chain-link fence would have to be built around the small monitor
and that the nonprofit citizen group would have to pay a school employee to
attend them as they changed filters on the monitor, even after school hours, on
the same fields where the community regularly gathers informally and for team
sports without such provisions.
decided to monitor the school site’s air from a location across the street,
from the parking lot of the Fort Tejon State Historic Park.
period of March 2011 through March 2012 documents levels of unsafe air quality
in the Lebec area. This air pollution, said the report, “impacts schools and
community centers that provide services to sensitive populations like children
and the elderly, which are already at higher risk of negative health effects
due to their increased sensitivity to hazardous particulate matter.”
Next week, we’ll
report about the school board’s response to the report, and review specific
findings and recommendations.