Representatives from UC Merced and community health organizations gathered at the campus entrance on May 2 to commemorate World Asthma Day by raising UC Merced’s air quality flags for the first time. Campus health services director Greg Spurgeon hosted the event, welcoming UC Merced staff members as well as representatives from the Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition, the National Lung Association and Mercy Medical Center to celebrate UC Merced’s participation in the asthma coalition air quality flag program.
Asthma affects an estimated 36,000 people in Merced County, almost ⅓ of them children under the age of 14, Spurgeon said as he welcomed the group. UC Merced is committed to environmental health and it is fitting to provide this service to students, faculty, staff and the community around us.
Ericka Peterson, the director of the asthma coalition, urged attendees to make individual good choices to contribute to better air quality for the region, such as driving less.
Student Nick Nakamura, who has asthma, assisted Spurgeon and Peterson in raising the yellow flag indicating that it was a moderate air quality day.
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.
Community members can also check air quality flags at 98 elementary and secondary schools in Merced County, as well as at Mercy Hospital and the Environmental Health Department.