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Did researchers miss a key cause: scraping desert soils for renewable energy projects?

By Miriam Raftery

Photo by Jim Pelley: Dust from construction at Ocotillo Wind Energy Facility

April 25, 2015 (Imperial Valley) – Just over the San Diego County line in Imperial County, the Center for Investigative Reporting found the air is “dark and asthma is deadly along the Mexico border.”

The troubling report published in Reveal states,“The ingredients of this rank, airborne witches’ brew make the Imperial Valley an especially precarious place to be a child. School-aged children are rushed to emergency rooms for asthma at a rate that’s nearly double the state average. Likewise, Imperial County holds the state record for asthma hospitalizations, with children younger than 5 being the most frequently admitted.”

While in the past, agricultural burning has been blamed as the primary culprit for pollution that’s among the worst in the nation, the investigators found significant pollution from diesel exhaust produced by vehicles stuck in longer waiting lines at the border crossing.

But biologist Edie Harmon, a resident of Ocotillo in Imperial County, has another theory: could dust created by construction of Imperial County’s many desert solar and wind projects be contributing to air pollution and health hazards?

“The people of Imperial County deserve a healthier environment, and so do the people of Mexicali.  What to do?“ she asks. “From where I live, in the desert about 25 miles west of Calexico, it appears that the air quality has gotten much worse in recent years,” she wrote in an e-mail sent to decision-makers and health officials. 

Harmon points out, “The article included no discussion of blowing dust and sand related to conversion of more than 20,000 acres of agricultural lands and open undisturbed desert to industrial scale renewable energy, and no discussion of increased levels of dust and sand related to off-highway vehicle activity and races blowing from public lands on heavily used weekends during winter months. Were asthma incidents and ER visits higher on those weekends?”

ECM has previously documented severe dust incidents during construction of the Ocotillo Express Wind Energy project, as well as severe dust storms that blew in from the east – areas with massive desert solar projects.

Harmon asks, “I wonder if and/or how the County's General Plan Update will address the public health impacts identified in this article.  For decades, the County could have insisted that every major earth disturbing project provide funds to help cover costs of more equipment and funding for air quality monitoring, but the County seems to have ignored the request for additional air quality monitoring every time it was made.”



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Air Quality Task Force

California has various Air Pollution Control districts, and Imperial County has one that includes a task force which is primarily concerned with reducing fumes at the border.

IV Pollution

Imperial County is dominated by Big Ag and that will never change. Don't blame off roaders, they are a group who care about the desert and most try to protect our resources.