Sensitive students not considered: lack of timely notice about tumbleweed burn causes problems


Sam Underwood

Illustration demonstrating the air pollution resulting from burning tumbleweeds.

Megan Tishma, News Reporter

  Imagine stepping out of your classroom and immediately breathing in the scent of smoke. You don’t know what it is or where it’s coming from. You may have asthma, Valley Fever, allergies, or just be sensitive to smoke. The damage is already done for some, as the brief exposure is just enough to trigger that miserable, health-issue-filled day. This became reality for some students at CSU Bakersfield on Feb. 10.  

  If you got hit in the face with a burning smell on Monday around 11 a.m., you were probably smelling tumbleweeds burning on the south end of campus. Maybe you had heard about the tumbleweed burn, or maybe you just found out about it when you smelled the burning, like most students.  

  Notice was given to students only two hours prior, with the email’s time stamp indicating it was sent out at 9:14 a.m. to notify students of an 11 a.m. scheduled burn time. 

  “[Students] usually get an email about it, but not this time around,” junior Sofia Martinez notes. 

  Personally, I was walking out of class in the DDH building when I smelled something burning. I didn’t know what the source was. When I got outside, I saw a plume of smoke on the south end of campus. I checked my email to see what was going on in case I needed to evacuate.  

  That’s when I saw that Facilities Management sent out an email saying they were burning something I’m highly allergic to – tumbleweeds. So I went home to get an inhaler and medication, and decided to stay home until I thought it would be clear to return. 

  I was angry because I was not sure if I could miss my next class, but I could not risk my health either to go to school. The email also did not state an estimated time for it to be over, so I was just hoping it would be over by the time class started. 

  “We put in a request well before the holiday break. Our hope was to burn the tumbleweeds while everyone was away during the holiday. Unfortunately, we only received one-day notice from the Valley Air Pollution Control District,” Faust Gorham, Associate Vice President of Information Technology and Administrative Services & Chief Information Officer, said in an email. 

  The Valley Air Pollution and Control District’s late approval for the permit, as well as the school’s delay to get the word out to the CSUB community, may come across to some as a simple miscommunication. However, this failure to communicate legitimately harmed others. 23.7% of Kern County residents have been diagnosed with asthma at some point in their life, according to the California Department of Public Health website. With asthma being prevalent in our county, it should be taken more seriously. 

  Students with sensitivities, such as asthma and allergies, should be warned more than two hours ahead of time when they do this annual tumbleweed burn. There needs to be better communication between Valley Air and the university; the student body deserves to be notified sooner so they can make the proper arrangements to avoid the campus while their medical triggers are present.