Jumat, 04 September 2020

Valley Voice: Fighting to inhale — A community case at the Salton Sea - Desert Sun

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Juan DeLara Sr., Special to The Desert Sun Published 5:00 a.m. PT Sept. 4, 2020

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On a hot summer day a decade ago, driving along the scorching hot asphalt of a busy Highway 86, with dreams of becoming the first generation in her family to achieve a college degree, Michelle Dugan-Delgado got a call that would change her life forever — her sister, Marie, had died following an asthma attack.

Her story is one of the countless narratives that have become tragically commonplace in the communities surrounding the largest body of water in California, and ingrained part of their own folklore. Here in this region many children walk to school carrying rescue inhalers to ease the asthma symptoms when they happen — and lately are happening with more frequency.

To its credit, the Newsom administration has paid more attention to the region than those of previous governors and successfully won funding for 10 new positions at the Salton Sea to implement dust suppression and habitat restoration there. The California Natural Resources Agency hopes to award a large contract for large-scale dust suppression and habitat restoration soon and begin work in the fall.

That will be a major milestone, but community engagement on plans for the sea has fallen short, and during a virtual meeting last week of the State Water Resources Control Board, the agency admitted that it has yet even to hire an analyst to study various mitigation options.

“I would like to see real action, I am tired of hearing promise after promise,” says Michelle. “I live with fear and gratitude every day — I don’t know when my last day will be.” Since 2017, Michelle has been hospitalized many times with acute pneumonia, and many of those times told that she has only weeks to live.

With the arrival of COVID-19, Salton Sea communities face an even steeper battle.

The infection rates appear to be overwhelmingly greater among the communities in the eastern Coachella Valley compared to the more affluent areas on the west end, according to the latest numbers reported by the Riverside County Health Department. This likely is due to a number of reasons, including a prevalence of underlying medical conditions, crowded housing, a high proportion of workers in agriculture and other “essential” jobs and a lack of access to information and quality health care.

None of this comes as news to Michelle, who at age 29 has the lungs of an 80-year-old woman, according to her pulmonologist. Her first asthma diagnosis came as a toddler in Calexico.

“I feel I was trapped between two beasts, the pollution coming from across the border with Mexico and the pollution blowing south from the Salton Sea. We can’t get a break,” she says. “At times I feel I have lost my faith, but I remind myself to be grateful to have stayed alive all these years, in spite of carrying two rescue inhalers at all times and taking seven different pills twice a day” just to be able to breathe.

Eleven years after the death of her sister, Michelle herself is fighting for her life, like many other community members living with disparities on both ends of the Salton Sea. Eleven years later, it seems nothing has changed except the growing number of people being diagnosed with asthma and COPD.

May marked the 11th anniversary of Marie’s death.

“She wasn’t supposed to die. I was supposed to go, not her,” Michelle says “The world needs to know that I am not the only one dealing with this, there are thousands of people with similar conditions and we shouldn’t be living this way.”

Juan DeLara Sr. is president of the Salton Sea Action Committee. Email him via saltonseaactioncommittee.org/contact-us

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September 04, 2020 at 07:02PM
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Valley Voice: Fighting to inhale — A community case at the Salton Sea - Desert Sun

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