2 Investigates tests for dirty air outside and inside daycare

A daycare owner in Benicia has taken it upon herself to monitor the air quality and decide whether or not children should be allowed to play outdoors.

Claudia Bean-Claverie owns Baby MacBean Daycare and had an air monitor installed a couple years ago in her backyard. She’s been keeping an eye on the unprecedented levels of potentially toxic air in the Bay Area.

“We haven’t had them outside all week,” Bean-Claverie said. “Our teachers are going nuts.”

With air quality in Northern California the worst in the world outside, according to AirNow.gov, 2 Investigates wanted to test air inside the daycare for comparison. What was discovered was surprising even to those who regularly test for unhealthy air.

“It’s alarming,” Ken Szutu with the Citizens’ Air Monitoring Network said. “It’s the worst that I’ve seen.”

The organization has installed 25 similar monitors in Benicia and Vallejo accessible to anyone using Purple Air’s website. Purple Air is a private company that tracks air quality with portable monitors across the globe.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a reading of the Air Quality Index of 200 or more is “very unhealthy.” A reading of 300 or more is “hazardous.”

Jimmy Sarmiento, who’s also part of the Citizens’ Air Monitoring Network showed 2 Investigates the reading from the outdoor air sensor at the daycare. It read 243 on Friday afternoon, which is between “very unhealthy” and “hazardous.”

That real-time data is constantly updated and different from AirNow.gov, which is only an updated average every hour. Still, compared to the rest of the United States, California appear to have a fever with the red blanketing the state.

Sarmiento and Szutu setup an air sensor inside the daycare and described two sensors within one monitor that uses small fans to suck and push air into the monitor. From there, it can be monitored from a smartphone for instant readings. It was tracking particles totaling 204, considered extremely high for indoor air.

“It’s very, very high,” Szuto explained. “People don’t really know how bad the air really is.”

For children who have small lungs, exposure can put them at greater risk of complications.

“It does concern me but right now I don’t have any way of blocking these leak holes,” Bean-Claverie said. 

Experts recommend getting air purifiers, limiting exercise and drinking plenty of water.

Sarmiento said air is worse in rural areas compared with urban areas because the smoke is free to move around. For now, it’s something everyone in Northern California has to deal with by taking precautions.

“It’s like the atmosphere is pressing down on us and the bad air cannot escape, it just stays here,” he said.