Sacramento was once known as the “City of Trees.” The immense amount of pollution infested within its air says otherwise. 

In 2017, Assembly Bill 617 was signed into law thus creating the Community Air Protection Program. As a result, local nonprofit organizations in Sacramento have teamed up to help. 

In December of 2020, Valley Vision, WALKSacramento, Breathe CA Sacramento Region and Green Tech created a program called Sacramento Neighborhoods Activating on Air Quality (SNAAQ). SNAAQ focuses on Old North Sacramento/Norwood and Oak Park neighborhoods to help monitor their air, understand the impacts of poor air quality, and develop a plan to reduce exposure to air pollution. 

Jordan Grimaldi is a project coordinator for SNAAQ through WALKSacramento. WALKSacramento has held multiple virtual listening sessions to get direct concerns from the community of North Sacramento and Oak Park. Grimaldi discusses the major importance of diverse feedback.

“We made sure to have Hmong, Spanish and Vietnamese translations for all of our outreach sessions. So no one is left out of the process because SNAAQ is really a community driven process.” 

North Sacramento and Oak Park will be receiving ten air quality monitors each. These sessions have developed separate neighborhood coalitions, which will then ultimately decide where to place the twenty air monitors. The coalitions will also be compensated with stipends.

The air monitors SNAAQ will be using are portable and solar powered. Image courtesy of Valley Vision.

Grimaldi states, “Those air quality monitors will be left up and running for a year and residents will have direct access to that live data. It’s updated every three minutes, so this will provide hyper-local air quality data to residents.”

“Data can really push policy and funding forward. We should just be able to say, ‘Hey our air quality is bad here, we have higher rates of asthma in our community, we need solutions now.’ Unfortunately you do need to have that data to back it up. So that’s definitely a big reason why this project is so important,” Grimaldi stresses.

Poor air quality being hyper focused in North Sacramento and Oak Park, Grimaldi describes, “is not a coincidence.”  

“On the surface level [North Sac and Oak Park] have higher traffic densities coming from highways compared to the rest of the Sacramento region. Both of these neighborhoods have higher concentrations of Asian, Black and Latinx populations. This is consistent with nationwide trends of low-income communities of color being burdened by various forms of pollution. This is really due to decades, centuries of white supremacy being embedded within the planning sector, financial sector, real estate sector, and every level of government.” 

These areas highlighted are the communities of North Sacramento and Oak Park, SNAAQ will be focused on. Image courtesy of Valley Vision.

Educating North Sacramento and Oak Park on the health effects of air pollution is a major priority of SNAAQ. Breathe CA Sacramento Region is currently developing an education curriculum for schools and WALKSacramento is developing community-based education.  

“Air pollution is now the biggest environmental risk for premature death. It’s responsible for as many as 5 million premature deaths each year from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and respiratory diseases. Such conditions have major implications of COVID because COVID affects the respiratory system. ”

Grimaldi continues, “Poor air quality doesn’t have a negative effect just in terms of physical health it also has negative effects for mental health. Personally, when there were all of the wildfires over the summer, it was a really rough time for me. We’re seeing how much air quality can affect community health and well being.”

Grimaldi finishes with everyday advice to help take control of air pollution in Sacramento. “Get involved in the process and stay informed. And put pressure on representatives to be improving air quality, but also specifically in frontline neighborhoods. Also just straight up plant trees.”