Thursday, 29 May 2014

Asthma, Agricultural Burning and Imperial County

A couple of days ago, I met Michelle Dugan. She lost her younger sister, Marie, to asthma when she was just seventeen and her sister was merely sixteen. Marie Dugan died on the 29th May, 2009 after an asthma attack that was so severe, that medics could do nothing. Marie was diagnosed with asthma when she was twelve. Today marks the five year anniversary and Michelle is still grieving and grappling with her sister's death.

Michelle too has asthma and has had it since she was six months old. She has been told by doctors, that they do not believe that she will live to grow old, rather, they believe she may not be around much longer. She has had asthma for too long and it is too severe, and has irrevocably damaged her lungs. Michelle is 22 and has a two-year old daughter.

Michelle and Marie grew up in East Coachella Valley, then moved to El Centro for about 4-5 years up until Marie's death in 2009, after which their family moved back to the Coachella Valley.

Abraham Marquez, an environmental scientist, asked me a few weeks ago about embarking on a documentary project focusing on asthma and agricultural burning in the Imperial County. Imperial County, where most of the Salton Sea is located, is in Southeastern California. 2 in 5 children have asthma there. This means that some 20,000 children in Imperial County have asthma. The population estimate from the Census Bureau states 176,584 lived there in 2013. Imperial County is primarily a farming community surrounded by a desert landscape and thus the inhabitants are regularly treated to dust storms, crop dusting and ag burning.

There are measures in place that help regulate the air pollution, for example, farmers must water dirt roads to decrease dust, burn permits are needed to regulate the burning of fields and crop dusters have limitations on spraying near vulnerable populations, such as schools. Imperial County is prone to experiencing dust storms, which exacerbate the problem. We are looking to learn more of the correlation between ag burning and asthma. Even with the measures in place, something is amiss, as there are too many cases of asthma. 

We have started the process of interviewing people in Imperial County who are in one way or another involved in these issues and will put these interviews and photographs into book format. We are reaching out to medical practitioners, air pollution control technicians, scientists, lawyers, farmers, and families.

Michelle sitting at Marie's grave

Michelle has been campaigning and talking to the members of the community, organizing fundraisers and 5k runs and music festivals to get out the word on asthma. Together with the Imperial Valley Child Asthma Program (IVCAP), they are working hard to educate the community on how to live with asthma, how to prevent attacks and what to do, if someone does have an attack. She is trying to stay positive and enable positive change so that other families don't have to go through what her family is going through.

IVCAP is the only public program in Imperial County that focuses on childhood asthma and preventative care, helping families with necessities like inhalers and nebulizers where they can through fundraisers, and educating parents with parental asthma management skills. Grant-funded, IVCAP are always looking for grants and donations and are currently very unsure of their future. We have also had the good fortune of interviewing Aide Fulton, who is the RN for the program and program manager. She has a lot to say about asthma and is very passionate about this program and the good it has done for the community. No doubt, it has helped save people's lives.

Over the next few weeks, Abraham and I will be interviewing and photographing more individuals and working towards putting these in book format. Watch this space for more updates.

Thank you for reading.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Mecca Earth Day Clean-Up with Local Kids

In Mecca, Riverside County, the children of the ASES (After School Safety and Education) program of the Saul Martinez Elementary School celebrated Earth Day a day early on the 21st April. The children, ranging in age from 7-10, gathered outside the Mecca Boys and Girls Club with gloves, picker uppers, trashbags and a whole lot of good attitude and energy. Lorraine Salas is the amazing teacher who made this outing happen!

Lorraine Salas (right) with the children

Outside of the Boys and Girls Club is a large empty field leading to farm land and was filled with all sorts of litter. Some was carried in by the ever present winds, some was probably discarded straight out of the car. The trash ranged from the perennial favorite Cheetos bags to large cardboard boxes to plastic bottles that had been out in the sun for so long that they crumbled in our hands. 

I spent some time with one of the students, Raymundo, and asked him about his thoughts of going round picking up all these things. He replied that he enjoyed being outdoors and doing exercise. He liked that it looked really nice after all the students had cleaned it up.

Other students also appreciated being outside and helping the environment. They agreed with Lorraine that they will not just throw stuff out, but take care to make sure their trash ends up in a bin. They know first hand the efforts it takes to clean-up an area and know that it is better to prevent the trash from being there in the first place.     

A huge thank you to the wonderful students: Jazmine Gamboa, Arleth Vargas, Michelle Cardenas, Armando Lopez Jr, Maricarmen Gutierrez, Elian A Trejo Sanchez, Joselyn Garcia, Jennifer Garcia Perez, Jesus Villasenor Alvarez, Michelle Cazares, Jose Trejo, Lonicio Zacarias, Gabriela Moreno, Alexandra Asauzo, Kevin Elias Torres, Raymundo Trejo Sanchez. 


What a difference!

Thank you to all the ASES students!

Monday, 3 March 2014

February Beach Clean-Up, Bags of Smells and Burrtec

It was a very peaceful cloudy perfect morning at the Salton Sea on the 22nd February for the clean-up of the illegal dumpsite near the shoreline.

First off, I want to thank the helpers that were able to make it: Andrew Lawrence (Salton City/Murrietta), George Mohoff (Salton City), Jim Jones (Indio), Kerry F. Morrison (Fullerton), Lorraine Salas (Palm Desert) and Sandy Sierra (Niland).

 We were privileged to have Sandy with us - she is a reporter for the Imperial Valley Press and did an article on the clean-up. And furthermore, Sandy put on some gloves and dug right in! Thank you so much Sandy, for going way beyond your call of duty.

Here is the link to the article she wrote: 

(l-r) Andrew Lawrence, Sandy Sierra, Jim Jones

(l-r) Andrew Lawrence, Sandy Sierra, Jim Jones, Kerry F Morrison 

Jim Jones

Sandy Sierra

Lorraine Salas

As a reminder - the before and after shots:

After the clean-up, I took the van and trailer to the Salton City landfill to get rid of the items that we had gathered up.

Upon getting there, I was told that it would cost me $10.

Hang on! Since when do we pay extra to use our own local dump site? We already pay just under $80 taxes from the property tax to the Burrtec Salton City landfill.  I am told they have a new pricing structure, which apparently came into play on the 1st January, 2014 and the costs now depend on what the resident is bringing and the size of the load.

Then I am told that the reason that Burrtec have introduced these charges is that they are not able to cover their costs from the property taxes alone, they lose money, as the property tax also pays for the trash services 52 times a year. This is simply not true.

The $80 a year allows the resident to be able to use the landfill. This does NOT include the trash services where they come and collect from the house 52 a year. That is extra: about $336 a year on top of the property tax.

Not every resident who shows up at the dump site gets charged extra I am told. I was being charged for two reasons: For a start, as I was bringing in a trailer and because I was bringing in someone else's trash. "You should not go and clean someone else's trash".

So, we should just let it sit there and rot instead and blow into the Sea in an area in Salton City that is frequently visited by tourists and residents. Welcome.

It was a community, volunteer clean-up and it was an illegal dump site on the shoreline. Are Burrtec going to go and clean it? I would like to see the day that happens.

I firmly believe (and am not the only one and wrote about this): Trash begets more trash.

If we ARE able to make a difference to the community, why are we being told that we shouldn't? 

Illegal dumping will cost the perpetrator $2000, I am told.

As if that matters in a community with low-density residential areas. How often do the illegal dumpers get caught? Last time I went to the police with news of an illegal dumpsite, the cop treated me like a criminal and told me they don't have time for that.

Since the clean-ups have started on a more regular basis in 2012, the stretches of beach front where we have cleaned, have actually remained pretty nice.

Now, that Burrtec are charging for more of their services, it will invite even more illegal dumping to happen. The $10 charge does not actually cover a whole lot of trash.

In the end, they did not charge me, but next time, they will. It makes me so mad that such a large, profitable corporation as Burrtec have found yet another way to screw their local residents, who are already paying for their services.

And secondly, shouldn't they be encouraging community, volunteer-based behavior? I bring that question to the readers.

To finish on a more positive note:

Thank you to all the volunteers for coming to the clean-up! I always enjoy your company! Thank you Jim Jones for the beautiful lemons!And I thank Abraham Marquez at Imperial Visions for his support!! 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Cleanup DATE confirmed! 22nd February - 9-11am. Details below!

First things first:

Happy Valentines Day!


The clean up will take place on the 22nd of February starting at 9am! I will bring water and some treats/snacks, gloves, some picker uppers, trash bags!!! This is the illegal dump site that I recently wrote about. We cleaned up that site a year ago, pretty much to the day (24th Feb, 2013):

Street: Sea Port Ave, Salton City 92275 - BY THE SEA SHORE. 

One street south of Sea Garden Ave (Johnson's Landing), on the other side of the wash.

Turn towards the Sea from South Marina DR and you will see me just up a short way on the peninsula.

See you there.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Pelican Days and Clean-Up Day

The date for the clean-up (see photos below) will be the 22nd February - a Saturday from 9am to Noon!!

Please email me info(at) to let me know you're coming so I can gauge numbers and I may put you in groups into different areas (but all within a couple of miles in Salton City along the shoreline).

This past Saturday I was attending the Pelican Days held at the Salton Sea State Recreation Area along with books and prints in tow and it was great. There were a lot of people there from all over, including a young man who was visiting from Luxembourg!

I got to speak with several artists and photographers, including Mark Stewart from the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge who certainly knows a thing or two about photography and does gorgeous work! He focuses on birds and wildlife in general, a lot of it shot at Sonny Bono NWR.

It was great to be at the park all day and see how the lighting changes the Sea; it was a cloudy day too, hazy, and with that great hazy line that looks as though water is evaporating and as though waterfalls were tumbling down the side of the desert mountains on the other side of the Sea: a fata morgana. It was hard to capture as I only had my 50mm standard SLR lens but here is a cropped image:

So when I wasn't standing at my booth chitchatting about the Sea with various patrons, visitors, or scientists, I would run down to the shoreline and photograph, mesmerised by the hourly changes, some subtle, some drastic, all sublime.

Thank you to Connie and Fredda  at the State Recreation Area for having me!!!