Valley air quality leads to red-flag warnings

Mario Saldana, Reporter

Bakersfield received a red flag due to the bad air quality on Sept. 20 that had residents of Kern County on high alert.

What does a red flag actually mean and when it comes to air quality and how can it affect an individual?

Raymond M. Purcell, director of Student Health and Wellness here at Bakersfield College, gave some information on how air quality can effect an individual’s health, especially when student athletes participated in practices and games during the red-flag hours.

The flag program which was established by the USEPA, is similar to the weather forecast you watch on television that informs you about the air quality in the next couple of days. The flags are represented by five colors that range from green, which means good air quality, yellow flag, which means moderate, orange is bad quality to sensitive issues, and down to the color purple which means air is very unhealthy.

A red-flag alert which Bakersfield recently went through, means that air quality is unhealthy for everyone not only individuals with health problems. Individuals who have asthma, COPD (Chrome Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and heart diseases are at risk for worsening their disease. Heart attacks are also more frequent due to the exposure of bad air quality.

There are also dangers to average healthy students who are exposed to the bad air quality, which can increase their chances to develop asthma or COPD, especially if the individual smokes. Kern County leads the nation in the rates of these conditions.

During the red-flag hours, many student athletes participated in practices and games including the soccer team, which is a sport that has a lot of running around. Purcell explained how fatigue and heavy breathing from either exercising and running around during activities can expose an individual with bad air quality.

When heavy breathing occurs more oxygen is needed in the lungs and when air quality is bad, the lung takes in ozone and micro air pollution that damages on a microscopic level, which can leave a permanent damage to the lungs.

More information of daily air quality is posted on to get daily forecasts on how the air quality is day by day.