Air quality complaints from wildfires persist in Richmond

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Air quality complaints from wildfires continue in Richmond
A photo taken in Richmond Tuesday evening, Oct. 10, 2017, when air quality was made poor by the massive North Bay fires.

UPDATE WEDNESDAY, 4:50 P.M.: All West Contra Costa Unified School District schools will be closed on Thursday, Oct. 12, due to “rapidly changing air quality conditions” resulting from the massive North Bay fires, Superintendent Matt Duffy announced Wednesday afternoon. “Central office departments will remain open,” Duffy said. “A decision about Friday will be made once more information becomes available.”

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The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) has kept all of its schools and offices open today and, same as Tuesday, is limiting outdoor activities based upon poor air quality brought on by the North Bay fires that erupted Sunday night.

“According to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the current air quality has improved over the past 24 hours,” according to a district statement Wednesday. “However, the fires in Napa, Sonoma, and other counties to the north of us are still burning with minimal containment, so the air quality is changing.”

Residents wanting updates on air quality can visit the BAAQMD website and check the air monitoring data section.

Since Monday, residents have been complaining about the poor air quality as they go about their day. Organizations including WCCUSD, Kaiser Richmond and Building Blocks for Kids Collaborative have made masks available for youth and families needing protection.

Some parents have expressed concern about sending kids to school in these conditions.

“[Tuesday] morning I received a report of students passing out at Richmond High School due to poor air quality,” said Mister Phillips, who serves on the WCCUSD Board of Education. “I went to the school to see for myself. Students and staff complained of headaches, dizziness, and chest pains.”

Despite those concerns, Superintendent Matt Duffy said Tuesday he believes students are best served when schools are open.

“Many of our students rely on us for breakfast and lunch and there is no doubt that they are safer in a supervised environment with caring adults,” Duffy said, adding that the district will support parents and guardians who choose to keep their kids home.

“But for the children who do come to school, we need to continue to ensure their safety and well-being,” he said.

On Wednesday, the school district listed steps it has taken to mitigate students’ exposure to poor air quality.

  • Principals have been directed to keep students indoors as much as possible, this includes for lunch, recess, and PE.
  • Ventilation systems have been shut off to prevent smoke from being drawn into our buildings. Our maintenance staff will continue to monitor the situation as needed.
  • Expanded learning programs that take place after school will be held today with students remaining inside. Parents can pick up their children early if they so choose.
  • Athletic events and practices have been cancelled.
  • College Day, which was planned for today, Wednesday, October 11, has been rescheduled to Wednesday, October 25, for all elementary and secondary schools.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) has advised residents to:

  • Limit outdoor activities to avoid unnecessary exposure if you smell smoke
  • Set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to prevent outside air from moving inside
  • Reduce exposure to smoky air by remaining indoors with windows and doors closed, if possible
  • If you cannot keep windows and doors closed due to high temperatures, seek out cooling centers in your area
  • If you experience symptoms like repeated coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness, palpitations, nausea, fatigue or lightheadedness contact your health care provider.
  • Stay tuned to local media for changes in smoke or weather conditions

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