American Lung Association tells SLO County to fix its dirty air — and quickly

The American Lung Association sent a strongly worded letter to San Luis Obispo County leaders, urging them to enforce solutions to reduce harmful particle pollution from the Oceano Dunes “as quickly as possible to protect public health.”

“This is a big deal. We’re getting reprimanded by a very big organization,” Mariam Shah, Grover Beach council member, said to other members of the Air Pollution Control District Board in reaction to the Jan. 18 letter.

It was sent from the organization’s California Region headquarters in Sacramento to Gary Willey, San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control officer.

The American Lung Association’s 2017 State of the Air report on air quality found that San Luis Obispo County ranks among the top 10 most particle-polluted metropolitan areas in the United States, which officials say is due to high pollution levels in South County.

For years, residents on the Nipomo Mesa have complained about air pollution from the Oceano Dunes, which they say has caused health problems from asthma to cancer.

Air pollution on the Nipomo Mesa exceeds state standards an average of 60 to 90 days a year, according to monitors at the CDF fire station on the Nipomo Mesa owned by the county Air Pollution Control District.

“A lot of people that are higher than we are said, ‘Well, it’s the sand dunes.’ And maybe it is, and maybe it’s the trees, and maybe it’s this. But this is the American Lung Association saying, ‘It’s not. We’ve looked at all the cities in the country, including the cities with sand dunes, and you guys are the worst,” Shah said.

“I felt very embarrassed to be in this situation, and I just hope we all take it to heart,” she added.

Willey said that he is working with California State Parks to implement dust-control measures this year before the spring high-wind season. A plan will be unveiled Tuesday at the Air Control District Hearing Board meeting.

The letter encourages the county to move forward this year with “meaningful new mitigation efforts of at least 100 acres as a first step in providing relief to the residents affected by vehicle activity at the dunes.”

lung association
American Lung Association letter to San Luis Obispo County requesting action on Oceano Dunes pollution. Vaughan, Monica

It says that short term exposures to elevated particle levels have been linked to:

▪  Death from respiratory and cardiovascular cases, including strokes;

▪  Increased mortality in infants and young children;

▪  Increased numbers of heart attacks;

▪  Inflammation of lung tissue in young, healthy adults;

▪  Increased severity of asthma attacks in children.

Year-round exposure to particle pollution has been linked to:

▪  Slowed lung function growth in children and teenagers;

▪  Development of asthma in children up to age 14;

▪  Significant damage to the small airways of the lungs;

▪  Increased risk of lower birth weight and infant mortality .

“Because mitigation of particle pollution can have significant benefits to local air quality and lung health, the American Lung Association in California urges the San Luis Obispo Air Quality Management District to continue to work with State Parks and other state and local agencies to resolve the Oceano Dunes particle pollution issue as quickly as possible,” the letter says.

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