A Santa Barbara County nonprofit environmental association tackles air pollution and environmental justice issues in North County farming communities.
The Community Environmental Council (CEC) recently received a $300,000 grant to monitor and share findings on air pollution, wildfire smoke, and pesticide exposure at the neighborhood level in Guadalupe and throughout Santa Maria Valley.
The California Air Resources Board awarded CEC the grant to implement Assembly Bill 616, which requires the state to support on-the-ground efforts to reduce pollution exposure and address its underlying causes.
Guadalupe is a high-scoring area in the CEC Designated Air Pollution Tracking Area and is designated by California as a disadvantaged community.
As a predominantly farming community, farm workers and community members in Guadalupe are well aware of the impacts of pollution. According to CEC Climate Justice Associate Alhan Diaz-Correra, who is local to Guadalupe, the grant will largely address environmental injustices in the North County town.
“We can’t really rate or prioritize our concerns when we don’t have the data to back them up,” Diaz-Correra said. “The purpose of education is to talk about the complexity of the problem, but not to educate about the problem itself.”
According to CEC’s Director of Climate Mitigation, Cameron Gray, the non-profit organization focuses on reversing, reducing and repairing the impacts of climate change with an emphasis on quick fixes and fair. Their goals for Guadalupe are to monitor and repair poor air quality and address environmental injustices in the community.
“The work we’re doing with this is really grounded in the voices of farmworkers and other community members who have been disproportionately impacted by poor and unsafe air quality,” Gray said. “I think it’s important to note that this project is really raising those voices.”
More than half of the $300,000 grant will be allocated to building air quality sensors and equipment. CEC is working with Blue Tomorrow, a Santa Barbara-based environmental consulting group, to build and distribute air monitors throughout the community, including many schools in the Guadalupe Union School District.
Funds will also be used for community education and outreach efforts. Gray acknowledged CEC’s efforts to educate community members, but also stressed the importance of learning from the community itself.
“We do education in technical areas where we can provide information about air pollution, wildfire impacts, or climate change,” Gray said. “But we also really rely on communities to be our teachers. We want to learn from them because we recognize that communities have a lot of knowledge and insights to share about their own issues and concerns.
The end goal of the CEC is to use the information collected in Guadalupe to improve the district’s understanding of air quality pollutants and find comprehensive solutions. An urgent aspect of this will be to create better and multilingual communication systems so that there is more equitable access to current air quality information.
The range of languages spoken by residents of the Guadalupe area is vast, including English, Spanish, and indigenous languages including Mixedco. Diaz-Correra said translations from English to other languages can be presented without depth, leaving many people unable to understand their environmental safety.
“Language support is not necessarily a cultural competency,” Diaz-Correro said. “Many locals who speak these languages are farm workers and cannot get this detailed information in their native language. They often have to rely on a phone game.
CEC plans to build and implement the air monitors by May, and the monitoring project is expected to last two years. However, activists and community groups hope this initiative will have a positive impact on Guadalupe and the Santa Maria Valley for years to come.
Click here for countywide air quality information from the County Air Pollution Control District.
— Carolyn French is a contributing writer for Noozhawk. Contact her at [email protected]