Merced's New Air Quality Awareness Program

Merced, CA The city of Merced is filled with green parks, but often covered with gray skies. Ruth Walstrom says the polluted air makes it difficult for her daughter to enjoy the outdoors.

Ruth Walstrom: "When the air is really bad, she has trouble breathing and we notice a definite difference. She sneezes a lot and she struggles outside."

Mary-Michal Rawling of the Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition says, "We do have a serious air quality crisis here in the San Joaquin Valley, and as a result we have way too many people diagnosed with asthma and heart disease and all sorts of respiratory ailments."

Doctors say during the days when the air is at its worst, those people need to be aware.

Dr. Henry Rikkers, Golden Valley Health Centers Pediatrician: "Bad air quality actually triggers an asthma attack."

That's why the city of Merced now plans to fly color-coded air quality flags at several city-owned buildings. Council members approved the plan after being approached by the Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition. The organization already provides the flags to Merced area schools, but those visual reminders often disappear when the campuses close.

Melissa Kelly-Ortega of Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition: "We're very excited because it will raise awareness in the summer time when schools are out."

The colored flags correspond to the air quality index, which measures pollutants like ozone and carbon monoxide. Green means the air quality is good, yellow means it's moderate, orange means it's unsafe for sensitive groups and red means the air is unsafe for everyone.

Walstrom says she'll be watching for the warnings.

Ruth Walstrom: "Definitely helpful to know when we're going to be struggling with the air quality, for Sabrina especially."

The Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition is providing the flags for the city, and they'll be flown on poles that are already in place at city buildings. The program is set to start on April 15th.

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