Air Pollution

Union Helps Santa Ana Workers Fight Workplace Air Pollution

Kingspan Light and Air, a factory in Santa Ana’s industrial corridor, employs workers to weld, spray paint and manufacture fiberglass to make energy efficient skylights for the Ireland-based corporation.

A lead assembly line worker and a welder, became clandestine “citizen scientists,” outfitted with monitors to measure indoor air pollution for an independent study led by Dr. Shahir Masri, a UC Irvine scientist.

Long concerned about the air they breathed while working, the workers wore mobile AtmoTube Pro devices as they planted stationary monitors in potential hot spot areas inside Kingspan’s two-building facility. They carefully followed instructions from previous training sessions: don’t bump the devices into any hard surfaces or stuff them in pants pockets. If anyone smokes a cigarette or uses hand sanitizer around them, make a note of it.

Most importantly, if management became curious about the small, black monitors slung around their necks or dangling off their belt loops, the workers were ethically bound to answer any questions about them, even if it led to being fired.

At the end of their shifts, the workers collected all the stationary monitors and left without incident. For the next two days, they repeated the task.

Masri, an air pollution expert, analyzed data from the monitors for his study, which measured fine particulate matter, an air pollutant that can pose health hazards in high enough concentrations.

The results, published this week under Masri’s independent consulting and research firm, appeared to confirm the workers’ worst fears; the average concentration of air pollution inside Kingspan’s two buildings exceeded outdoor levels in Santa Ana during last year’s wildfires by 25%.

Masri’s findings helped form the basis of an Oct. 15 complaint filed with California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, by the workers against the company. Cal/OSHA inspectors followed up by visiting Kingspan this week after a delegation of workers asked management to allow them to choose whether to unionize with SMART or not without intimidation.

Local Kingspan workers met with Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento last week about their concerns amid the company’s pandemic profits.

“All workers in Santa Ana have the right to a safe and healthy workplace, and any allegations of unhealthy working conditions is troubling,” Sarmiento said. “Workers should also have the right to collectively bargain to ensure conditions such as this are remedied.”

The mayor encouraged any workers with similar concerns to contact appropriate agencies like Cal/OSHA while also noting that the city’s draft General Plan update addresses regulations aimed at curbing air pollution exposure.

Many questions remain unanswered, including if the unhealthy levels of indoor air pollution measured by the workers correlate with any adverse medical conditions suffered by them.

“We hope that by forming a union, it will help fix many things like bringing in good extractors,” a worker said. “The most important thing is our health, so that we can continue living and working.”


San Román, Gabriel. “For Unionizing Factory Workers in Santa Ana, Indoor Air Pollution Is More Pressing than Pay.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 20 Oct. 2021,
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