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!