1.1 Buen Ambiente-Buena Salud: An Education-Based Program for Addressing Air Quality in a USA-Mexico Border Metroplex

Monday, 7 January 2013: 11:00 AM
Room 13AB (Austin Convention Center)
Elaine Hampton, University of Texas, El Paso, TX; and W. W. Li, T. E. Gill, and W. L. Hargrove

The Paso del Norte (PdN) metropolitan area is comprised of the cities of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, along with smaller suburbs in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Air quality in the area is considered the poorest along the U.S.- Mexico border. The air basin's complex topography promotes frequent stagnations, extended inversions and shallow nighttime mixing depths, while at other times high winds advect hazardous concentrations of particulate matter into the area as dust from the Chihuahuan Desert. The arid climate, multiple jurisdictions with sometimes-conflicting regulations, a high percentage of unpaved roads, strong industrial activity, uncontrolled waste burning, and millions of motor vehicles (often idling for hours) crossing the international border each year all combine to create a variety of air pollution problems in the PdN. A high poverty rate, locally poor sanitation, and an underdeveloped health care system puts the population at risk of adverse health effects from deteriorated air quality.

Via funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we have established “Buen Ambiente, Buena Salud,” an air-oriented, border-focused, environmental-justice seeking program of education and outreach, to increase awareness of air quality issues amongst local residents through the lens of students from primary school to doctoral levels. The program partners a higher education institution (University of Texas- El Paso, UTEP), a K-12 school district (El Paso Independent School District, EPISD), and government and industry experts committed to improving border air quality. The program's long-term objective is to develop, train and retain professionals in various disciplines with interest and motivation to address air quality issues in the border region.

There are two key elements to our program. First, we are developing, jointly with EPISD teachers, ten curriculum units on air-quality-related subjects for grades 3-12 that are inquiry-based, tested, revised in at least two cycles, and will be embedded in the district curriculum. These modules will be aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards, the state prescribed standards for Texas—Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, as well as the North American Association for Environmental Education's Guidelines for Excellence. The curriculum will reach tens of thousands of local students and be disseminated to other school districts through workshops and web-based resources. Second, each year a cadre of UTEP student interns is being recruited for training and professional development during the academic year, followed by enrollment in a specialized air quality course (including lecture, laboratory, and field experiences) during the “Maymester” after spring semester, and capped by an air-related summer internship with government or industry. Student interns are provided opportunities during the academic year for involvement in community-related air quality, environmental health, and environmental justice issues, and expected to develop presentations for regional committees, community activities, or public hearings related to air quality in the Paso del Norte. The first year's cadre of interns included UTEP students at both undergraduate and graduate levels majoring in Civil Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Environmental Science, and Social Work. They were placed in internships with a variety of local, state, and Federal governmental agencies or industry partners during Summer 2012.

The “Buen Ambiente, Buena Salud” program, including UTEP, EPISD, and partners in the private and public sectors, will provide knowledge and understanding of air pollution, environmental health, and environmental justice issues to youth of the Paso del Norte region, motivating more students to enter careers related to air quality issues. Ultimately, we hope this program will increase the number of qualified professionals in various disciplines equipped with the knowledge and experience to work towards improved air quality and public health and to address environmental justice in the USA-Mexico border region.

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