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Last Edited: 2/23/2012

Flag Program: Reducing Exposures to Air Pollution in the Imperial Valley, near the U.S.-Mexico Border

Starting in January 2010, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and its collaborators will be conducting health education activities focused on reducing exposures to unhealthy air in the Imperial Valley, near the U.S.-Mexico border, by working with the Calexico Unified School District to implement a Flag Program and an indoor activity curriculum to address bad air quality days. 


Imperial County is located in the southeast corner of the state, and shares a border with Mexicali, in Mexico (view a map of the area). It is a region of high temperatures and low rainfall, where dust from agricultural activities like tilling and field burning, and from other combustion activities like power plants and trash burning, combined with vehicle exhaust from cross-border traffic, make it extremely prone to high levels of air pollutants. Among California’s 58 counties, Imperial has the highest rate of childhood hospitalizations visits due to asthma.

CDPH recently released the findings of a 2005 school-based asthma survey among young adolescents in Imperial County, aimed at providing data on asthma prevalence and gain a better understanding of the many factors linked to asthma. More information on the Border Asthma and Allergies study.

What is the Flag Program?

The Air Quality Flag Program was developed in 2004 by the Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition, with funding from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, to help school officials prepare for bad air quality days and protect sensitive students from exposure to unhealthy air. Each day, participating schools post a colored flag that corresponds to the colors used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s air quality index. ALA also provides an indoor activity curriculum to ensure that students participate in physical activity, even on poor air days.

The program has been replicated in eight counties in the Central Valley, with over 1,000 schools enrolled.

Adapting the Flag Program to Imperial County schools

A recent assessment of five schools in Imperial County found that none of the schools, including the Calexico High School, have a program in place to actively respond to bad air quality days. With a program aiming at reducing exposure on such days, schools and school districts may decrease student sick days, which would translate into more days of attendance; in turn, this could mean improved education and achievement scores, as well as increased state resources for local school districts.

CDPH received funding from the Border Environment Cooperation Commission to adapt and implement the Flag Program in Imperial County, in collaboration with the California Breathing program, Comité Cívico del Valle, Inc., ALA's regional office, Imperial County's Public Health Department and Air Pollution Control District, and the Office of Binational Border Health.

During the 18-month project, we will work to achieve our goals of 1) engaging the Calexico Unified School District in adopting the flag and active indoor curriculum programs for at least five schools, by providing outreach to teachers and parents, training school staff, and updating their curricula with new modules; 2) developing a process of notifying nearby farms and isolated residence of burn days at nearby agricultural fields; and 3) conducting outreach activities to expand the Flag Program in the City of Calexico and in the nearest mexican communities.

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