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Desert Healthcare District board looking to help with east valley air quality concerns

As students in the Coachella Valley Unified School District are kept home Wednesday from their fourth straight day of school due to an ongoing mulch fire in Thermal, teachers and school board members asked the Desert Healthcare District for assistance and resources.

In the public comment portion of Tuesday night’s Desert Healthcare District board meeting, they spoke out with a desperate plea.

“We need help, we really do need help,” said Blanca Hall, a CVUSD board member. “Our kids are suffering from asthma, and when our kids are not in school, unfortunately we’re all affected by it.”

Teachers shared their harrowing experiences from the repeated fires burning at a green waste center less than a mile down the road from their Thermal schools.

“You feel smoke encompass your room; you hear your little asthmatic children coughing, as the teacher does too — because I am an asthmatic,” said Margie Avina, a teacher at Toro Canyon Middle School.

School district board members asked to collaborate with the healthcare district.

“It’s not the Torres Martinez problem. It’s not Raul Ruiz’s problem. It’s our problem,” Hall said. “So how can we get together so we can solve our problems in our community?”

After public comment ended, the board agreed they can play a role in finding solutions.

“We made a decision, we as a district, to go into the area and to be leaders in health issues,” said Leticia De Lara, vice president and secretary for Desert Healthcare District. “This is definitely a health issue and we need to be at the table.”

“Although the EPA and county and state and federal and tribe and cities have their responsibilities, I think we can be another voice that highlights the health issues,” said Les Zendle, president of the healthcare district board.

Some healthcare district board members offered early suggestions of ways to help.

“I would like there to be a conversation of not just closing down this recycling plant but also the cleanup of those locations,” said Karen Borja, the healthcare district board’s director.

The healthcare district staff was directed to bring forward proposals of ways to help. They floated the idea of tapping into a $1 million fund donated specifically for breathing issues.

You can reach Jake on Twitter, Facebook or email him at jake.ingrassia@kesq.com.

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