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The Tribune: SLO County residents living in polluted areas can soon get free air purifiers. Here’s how

Some residents in southwestern San Luis Obispo County may be eligible for a free indoor air purifier from the local Air Pollution Control District (APCD) to combat the negative health impacts from wildfire smoke and blowing dust.

The APCD will soon give away about 600 high-efficiency particulate air purifiers with at least one replacement filter to low-income residents living in Oceano and on the Nipomo Mesa downwind of Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Area.

Those areas typically experience the worst air quality in the county due to blowing dust from the dunes, and smoke impacts have become worse as climate change causes wildfires in California to become larger and more common.

The purifiers are available through the newly-approved Clean Air Rooms Pilot Program, which was allocated $100,000 during the APCD’s last meeting Jan. 26.

“South County residents’ exposure to wildfire smoke has grown significantly over the past several years,” Arroyo Grande City Council Member Jimmy Paulding said in a statement. “As public servants, we need to do all we can to help the most vulnerable among us and there’s no question that particulate matter is harmful to the lungs and heart. Seniors, young children, pregnant women, farmworkers and people with pre-existing conditions are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution.”

APCD public information officer Meghan Field said the agency will likely distribute the air purifiers to residents over two days in late April. She noted the distribution location is still being finalized.


The program will only be available to low-income residents who live within the community of Oceano or the Nipomo Mesa and Arroyo Grande areas located in the Mesa 2 and CDF Air Quality Forecast zones designated by the APCD. Those areas are generally downwind of the Oceano Dunes.

Applicants will need to show low-income status and can do so through a variety of ways including participation in a state or federal low-income assistance program, low-income utility assistance programs such as PG&E Care, food cost assistance programs or income tax documents. Only one air purifier will be distributed per home.

Officials with the APCD indicated in the Jan. 26 meeting that the program is limited due to funding availability, but will look for ways to expand the program after its initial launch.


Not all on the APCD board approved of the program, however.

It was approved in a 9-3 vote in the Jan. 26 meeting, with Paso Robles Councilmember John Hamon and San Luis Obispo County supervisors Debbie Arnold and John Peschong voting against the program.

Hamon said during the meeting he did not support the program because it was primarily only applicable to those living downwind of the Oceano Dunes. Arnold agreed.

“I have never been a fan of just giving things away, especially appliances from … a tax-payer-funded general fund,” she said during the meeting. Arnold said she wants to ensure people receiving the air purifiers are held accountable and “put some skin in the game” to prove they will actually use the air purifiers. She suggested people perhaps take a class on how to use the purifiers or report back to the APCD on how they’re using them.

County Supervisor Bruce Gibson responded by saying he was “deeply disappointed” and called Arnold’s comments “flimsy excuses for not doing something that’s important.”

“We have a responsibility to address the most serious public health issue outside of COVID that this county has, which is unacceptably bad air pollution in the south part of our county,” he said during the meeting. “We know that there is a considerable inequity of income and wealth in that area and as a start, I think this is only the right thing to do.”

He added: “This is far from a giveaway if you really think about what adverse health outcomes cost us all — we should be doing this in a heartbeat.”

San Luis Obispo city councilmember Jan Marx largely agreed and said the program is starting with the most vulnerable who are the least capable of obtaining the purifiers on their own.

Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg said she supports the program and wants to ensure the purifiers get in the hands of those who need them the most, primarily farmworkers.

“It’s one thing to talk about handing things out, it’s another thing to invest in the people that are actually helping to make our economy grow,” she said.

“It’s one thing to talk about handing things out, it’s another thing to invest in the people that are actually helping to make our economy grow,” she said.

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