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Border region air quality panel says pollution shared by both countries

February 22, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Experts from Mexicali and Imperial County gathered here Wednesday night to discuss air quality in the border region and its possible effects on health.

Staged at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus, the panel discussion was hosted by the California Center for Border and Regional Economic Studies, Autonomous University of Baja California in Mexicali and the Mexicali-based Regional Center for Environmental and Socioeconomic Studies.

According to CCBRES Director Kimberly Collins, the panel discussion and presentations — one such event was held in Mexicali on Tuesday night — are a resource in developing an information pamphlet in both English and Spanish that will provide clear and understandable air quality information for the border region.

Presenting those assembled with an overview of pollution in the Mexicali and Imperial valleys, Margarito Quintero Nuñez, a researcher at UABC's Institute of Engineering, said although the two valleys are separated by an international border, geographically both valleys are part of one inner basin.

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Because of that, both regions share in the same type of pollution problems, including high levels of particulate matter of more than 10 microns, or PM10, because of dust from fields and unpaved roads and agricultural burning.

Further, Quintero said there is pollution from pesticides, geothermal incondensable gases, which he said are more of a problem in Mexico, and an abundance of pollen and pathogens from the New River.

Quintero said there are air-quality issues shared by both countries. He said officials in recent years have been aware of cross-border pollution transport and the need for more monitoring systems.

He added officials working together need to denounce efforts to downplay the severity of air-quality issues and to put together a bilateral air quality alliance like those in Tijuana and San Diego.

Jose Carrillo, a disease prevention specialist and statistician for the Imperial County Public Health Department, made a presentation on asthma in Imperial County.

He said for the size of Imperial County there are an amazingly high number of deaths from respiratory illnesses such as asthma — 15.2 people per 100,000 deaths.

Compiled from raw data over the past 10 years, Carrillo said there has been a 51 percent in crease in asthma cases reported in children under age 1; a 71 percent rise in children between ages 1 and 4; and a 52 percent rise between ages 5 and 14.

In that same time period, he said, there has been a 59 percent rise in the number of asthma-related hospital admissions.

Carrillo said asthma rates are generally higher in Imperial County than in other counties in California.

He said there are efforts under way by the county health department to collect better data and work with physicians to get better treatment for asthma.

While he did talk about asthma at an air-quality conference, Carrillo said the health department does not have the tools to draw a correlation between increased incidents of childhood asthma locally and border air quality.

Fernando Amador of the California Air Resources Board made a presentation on air monitoring by the CARB on both sides of the border.

Amador said since 1997 there have been PM10 monitoring stations on both sides of the border. The stations in Mexicali — there are others in Tijuana and Tecate — are being manned by Mexican technicians in the hopes that control will be turned over to the Mexican government.

Charles Ross, an air pollution specialist with CARB, was on hand to talk about CARB's fledgling diesel risk reduction plan, which aims to cut the cancer-causing emission drastically in the next few years.

Ross said in the coming years diesel trucks will be required to have some sort of filtering apparatus.

He also asked for the community's help in reporting school buses or trucks that are smoking excessively.

Jan Cortez, community program coordinator and vice president of research and environmental health for the American Lung Association, made a presentation about pollution and its effects on the lungs.

At discussion's end, Carlos Yruretegoyena of the Regional Center of Environmental and Socioeconomic Studies said there is the need to put together all the facts and figures on pollution, all of the graphs and models, into a "more friendly and understandable format … so people can understand some of these consequences."

Collins agreed.

"We're trying to put together something like that," she said, "to make it a more readable, understandable booklet."

Staff Writer Richard Montenegro can be reached at 337-3453.

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