The following article appeared on E&E News. We are posting this article because it highlights the work of an incredible public health champion, Aide Munguia-Fullton, a nurse that runs the Imperial Valley Child Asthma Program. A local leader in environmental justice.
IMPERIAL COUNTY, Calif. — A dust bowl is coming, and people here are scared.
Aide Munguia-Fulton, a nurse who runs a community program for children with asthma, has been seeing referrals for assistance soar in the last three years as the Salton Sea has begun receding due to water management schemes and a persistent drought.
Receiving 400 referrals last year alone, Munguia-Fulton has funding to enroll no more than 200 kids a year. She’s managed to include more children, but she knows the lake is expected to shrivel more quickly starting at the end of 2017, exposing thousands of acres of a dusty, toxin-laced salt bed and exacerbating already high asthma rates.
Munguia-Fulton has worked here for more than two decades, and, three years ago, she too was diagnosed with asthma. Just as she tells her patients, she hides indoors from unrelenting dust on windy days. She carries a dust mask with her at all times.
She doesn’t know how the cash-strapped area will cope if air quality continues to deteriorate.
“I am so concerned for our hospitals that are going to suffer the heavy loads,” Munguia-Fulton said. “We have to be prepared. And I know we are not.”
The recession of California’s largest lake (350 square miles) is exposing a lake bed saturated with arsenic, lead, cadmium and other toxins. By the end of 2017, the shrinking will accelerate under terms of state-backed water transfer from this agricultural area to coastal San Diego (Greenwire, June 13).
More than 100 square miles of toxic salt flat could be uncovered in the coming decades. The Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, estimates that by 2045, the lake bed could be putting 100 tons of dust per day into the air.
That dust — called coarse particulate matter by regulators — is by nature dangerous because it can penetrate deeply into the lungs. It will make breathing even more difficult in an area whose air quality already ranks among the nation’s worst because of dust from farms and desert.
That pollution is broadcast from this remote corner of southeast California by frequent wind storms whose gusts hit 80 mph.
It’s a “really salty dust, it burns your eyes,” said Bruce Wilcox of the California Natural Resources Agency. “It only lasts for 15 to 20 minutes. But it’s the longest 15 to 20 minutes of your life if you are standing in it.”
Winds carry that dust toward some 650,000 people — a population that’s expected to double in the next 30 years.
Hit hardest by prevailing north-to-south winds is the Imperial County near the Mexico border. With the state’s highest childhood asthma rates, the county is more than 80 percent Hispanic, suffers a 20 percent unemployment rate and nearly more than 1 in 3 of its children live in poverty.
North of the Salton Sea, asthma rates are also high as shifting winds carry dust there.
And new data suggest asthma rates are rising closer to the lake, local health officials say.
You can read the complete article here.