Flags Fly May 2 to Observe World Asthma Day, Signal Air Quality

MERCED - UC Merced is cooperating with the Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition to help keep the campus and the community informed about the quality of the air they breathe. A color-coded flag will fly at the campus entrance each day to alert passersby whether or not the air is considered healthy for them to breathe. An air quality flag will be raised for the first time tomorrow, May 2, as the campus observes World Asthma Day. Members of the press and public are invited to the flag-raising at 10:30 a.m.

"UC Merced is one of the first universities to implement the air quality flag program," said Greg Spurgeon, who administers health programs on campus. "Considering our established commitment to personal and environmental health, it's a fitting service to provide to students, faculty, staff and the community around us."

Students, faculty and staff from UC Merced will be present at the flag-raising tomorrow. Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey is expected to raise the first air quality flag along with UC Merced students who are affected by asthma or other respiratory issues.

The flags, colored green, yellow, orange and red, correspond to the colors of the Air Quality Index (AQI) and advise the campus and community what air quality has been forecasted for the day. A green flag indicates that the air quality is "good," yellow indicates "moderate," orange is "unhealthy for sensitive groups" and red is "unhealthy."

Sensitive groups might include people with asthma or other respiratory illnesses, said Spurgeon. Officials on campus will know which flag to fly through e-mail notification of the air quality forecast for the day from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

In addition to the flags, the asthma coalition provides educational materials about air quality through several of UC Merced's Student Affairs offices. Brochures are available at the Students First Center, the Recreation Office, and the Health and Wellness Office.

"It's important for UC Merced to serve as a leader in the Valley, and air quality is one of the biggest environmental health and economic issues we have in this area," said Mary-Michal Rawling of the Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition. "By implementing the flag program, UC Merced is supporting the message being sent by local schools that also participate urging awareness and action on air quality issues."

Community members can also check the air quality flags at 98 elementary and secondary schools in Merced County, as well as at Mercy Hospital and the Environmental Health Department. Merced College also plans to commence flying the flags. The air quality flag program was started by the Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition in Merced County in 2004 and can now be found throughout the Valley, including schools in Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, Mariposa, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare counties.

UC Merced opened September 5, 2005 as the 10th campus in the University of California system and the first American research university to open in the 21st century. The campus significantly expands access to the UC system for students throughout the state, with a special mission to increase college-going rates among students in the San Joaquin Valley. It also serves as a major base of advanced research and as a stimulus to economic growth and diversification throughout the region. Situated near Yosemite National Park, the university is expected to grow rapidly, topping out at approximately 25,000 students within 30 years.

World Asthma Day is an annual event organized by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to improve asthma awareness and care around the world. World Asthma Day 2006, organized around the theme "The Unmet Needs of Asthma." For more information about World Asthma Day and the Global Initiative for Asthma, visit http://www.ginasthma.com.

The Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition is a community-based health organization whose mission is to: Control asthma through awareness and education. The coalition was formed in 1997 by a group of local healthcare providers as a grassroots organization that has grown in recent years. Besides the air quality flag program the coalition also provides direct services to asthma patients and the Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program to reduce indoor environmental asthma triggers in classrooms. Coalition meetings are held the second Tuesday of the month and are open to the public. For more information or to make a donation contact the coalition office at 384-6759.

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