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You can sign up in Spanish to get bad-air alerts. And a tweet storm made that possible

Less than two weeks after critics ripped the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District for not doing enough to alert the public about hazardous air quality levels, complaints that registration for alerts have not been available in Spanish erupted Thursday on Twitter.

And by the end of the day, the air district had responded, saying people should be able to sign up to get air alerts by text or email by the end of the week.

The district came under criticism earlier this month for lack of public outreach when parts of Fresno experienced level-5 concentrations of particulate matter – the worst ranking possible. The district refuted the criticism, citing its Real-Time Air Advisory Network, or RAAN system, as being the only one of its kind in the U.S.

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A tweet storm erupted Thursday morning after community activists appeared at the air district meeting and said the district needed to have an online link in Spanish for people to request RAAN alerts.

Kevin Hall

Kevin Hall, a longtime air activist in Fresno, began assailing the board on Twitter for not sending RAAN alerts in Spanish. Hall, who was home sick but listened to the district proceedings online, began tweeting: “@ValleyAir biggest lie of the day. They don’t send RAAN alerts in Spanish because they’re only sending out “numbers.”

Hall tagged the tweet to Dean Florez, a member of the California Air Resources Board and a former member of the state Senate who represented the central San Joaquin Valley. Hall tweeted: “@deanflorez at this point they’re actively lying to the general public and demonstrated specific disregard for outside workers.”

Florez responded in a tweet that he tagged to the air district: “Because Latino’s wouldn’t understand ‘numbers’ right? Or maybe even the colors in the Air Quality Index? Zero’s & RED not hard if sent out. How would the State’s largest spanish speaking area know how to protect w/activity modifications based on pollution levels?”

Florez continued: “On Latino’s and Numbers: *note to @ValleyAirDistrict – Mayans developed zero as a placeholder around A.D. 350 and used it to denote a placeholder in their elaborate calendar systems. We understand numbers, especially ZEROs which we need more of when it comes to CO2.”

The air district replied in a tweet to Florez that there was misinformation out there and that alerts are available in Spanish. But Hall quickly replied that the sign-up for alerts is available only in English. And Florez tweeted that registering for the alerts should be available in Spanish. “  anything less is excluding & bars the Real-Time Air Advisory Network (RAAN) from actually helping EVERYBODY.”

The air district soon responded to Florez: “Talked to Seyed (Seyed Sadredin, the district executive director) consider it done.”

Jaime Holt, an air district spokeswoman, said the district solicited suggestions from the community at the Thursday meeting and had noted the concern expressed about the need for a link in Spanish for the public to register for air alerts.

But Holt acknowledged the tweet storm: “We’re fast-tracking it because of all the anger we’re hearing from Kevin Hall on Twitter,” she said. “By the end of the week, we’re hoping to have the form online that people fill out to receive email or text notifications.”

Barbara Anderson: 559-441-6310, @beehealthwriter

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