The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently recognized “Clean Air: El Marino” and the Culver City Unified School District for its efforts in educating parents and the community about how traffic pollution impacts students and ways in which the District can mitigate those impacts.
Nearly 800 students from preschool through the fifth grade attend El Marino Language School, which in some places, is within 50 feet of the San Diego (405) Freeway. Concerned about air quality and the health of the community, a group of parents came together in 2011 to research and implement mitigation strategies to ensure that every student, teacher, staff member, and parent volunteer at El Marino is breathing clean air. The group, “Clean Air: El Marino,” was founded by Dr. Rania Sabty-Daily and co-founders Stephon Litwinczuk and Ariadna Martinez, and parents of children attending El Marino.
From the beginning, the founders envisioned a collaborative effort among all stakeholders, with open communication and transparent relationships. Through weekly school newsletters, social media, their website, and direct communication, “Clean Air: El Marino” has worked to ensure that all members of the school community are updated on the group’s actions and feel encouraged to voice their opinions at any time.
Searching for effective solutions, “Clean Air: El Marino” contacted organizations for information on mitigating air pollution caused by traffic, including the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The group also reached out to academic institutions, including the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, to gain insight on the ways that traffic pollution affects children. To strengthen its voice among stakeholders with decision-making authority, the group engaged the school’s parent-teacher association, built relationships with administrators from CCUSD, and connected with school board candidates as they campaigned.
To provide opportunities for community members to meet and hear from air quality experts, the group has organized public forums and workshops. Seeking support from EPA, the group invited Jorine Campopiano, EPA Region 9 Schools Coordinator, to attend a forum at El Marino. Region 9 has since become involved with “Clean Air: El Marino” by providing scientifically based advice and avenues for the group to share their efforts. In addition, Region 9 is currently developing a brochure (anticipated release in 2015) of best practices to reduce near-road pollution exposure at schools, which can assist schools in situations similar to El Marino.
The District has taken action, spending the past several months working with Southland Engineering on the development of a prototype air filtration system that will fit within the existing large heater cabinets in the majority of the classrooms at El Marino. The unit will be tested very soon to ensure that it meets the following requirements: adequate fresh air handling capabilities for a classroom; sound levels that are well below recommended thresholds for a classroom; and the filtering of more than 90 percent of the ultra-fine diesel particulates from the trucks on the I-405.
The District has also built in the capacity for potentially adding air conditioning to the unit in the event that the temperature in the classroom, with the prototype installed and the door closed, is higher than what would be accomplished by leaving the classroom door open on warm days.
“We will be conducting scientific measurements of each of the above requirements with the assistance of Dr. Rania Sabty-Daily, who is has devoted an amazing amount of time, energy, and professional guidance in reaching this point in the process and in planning the future implementation of the air mitigation system in the school,” said Mike Reynolds, Assistant Superintendent, Business Services.
Once testing is over, and the above requirements have been measured and confirmed to be within the target ranges, CCUSD will proceed with obtaining bids for the installation of the unit in the classrooms with the current large heater cabinets. At the same time, there are a few other types of classroom structures on the campus that have alternative heating and ducting systems in them, so the District is working on air filtration compatible designs with Southland Engineering to provide air mitigation systems for those classrooms as well.
“We are very excited that the prototype unit is undergoing testing at Southland Engineering, and we plan to install the prototype unit in one of the El Marino classrooms in the very near future, and we are very appreciative of the recognition from the EPA that we have received for these efforts,” Reynolds said.
In just three years, “Clean Air: El Marino” has made significant contributions to improving environmental health at El Marino. The group empowered its community to engage in important environmental and safety issues at school, and collaborated with CCUSD in finding solutions and taking action. The group’s work has inspired other community initiatives to promote children’s environmental health, such as tree-planting events, anti-idling campaigns, and chemical-free dusting campaigns for classrooms.
In future years, “Clean Air: El Marino” plans to build a toolkit that can serve as a model and resource for schools facing similar air quality challenges, and it will continue strengthening its relationship with the CCUSD and the Culver City community.