HINKLEY - Norm Diaz crouched down beside a plastic bucket at Hinkley School on Wednesday and inflated a plastic bag with air.

Dozens of students, teachers and members of HelpHinkley.org crowded around him watching him gather samples for an air test. They hope the samples will prove that Hinkley's air is clean and plan to send the sample off to a private lab for testing.

HelpHinkley.org members are concerned that the proposed Nursey Products biosolids composting facility to be built near the town will add to air pollution and create odors, claims that Nursery Products denies.

"We want to be able to prove that our air here is clean before this thing comes in so we can fight it," Diaz said.

He said that the group is concerned that the regional air board does not test the air directly in Hinkley, instead using a monitoring station in Barstow.

"They've said this (project) won't affect our air quality, now we'll see," he said.

Diaz said the group is being supported in its air test initiative by the non-profit group Global Community Monitor, whose Bucket Brigade project assists communities in performing their own air tests. He said HelpHinkley.org wanted to involve local students in the testing to educate them as well as to win their support.

Violette Roberts, spokeswoman for the Mojave Desert Air Quality Management District, said that while the district is open to reviewing HelpHinkley.org's test results, the district's own regional tests show the air to be very clean.

"I can't vouch for the effectiveness of the testing method that's being used," she said. "It would be a fair guess to say that the air is actually cleaner and more healthful in the Hinkley area."

She said that agricultural and vehicle-related emissions represent some of the largest sources of air pollution in Hinkley, something she doesn't expect to change if the composting plant opens.

"We don't believe that the composting facility will bring about any added pollution to the region," she said. "We are more concerned about odors and nuisances. We don't believe that this particular project will adversely affect human health, if it operates as it is spelled out in the Environmental Impact Report."

Chris Seney, director of operations for Nursery Products, said that he anticipates any air test in Hinkley to show the air to be clean and expects it to stay that way once the facility is operating.

I'm not sure what he's trying to prove with this," he said of Diaz's air test.

Nursery Products officials have repeatedly said that the composting plant will not negatively affect air quality or bring extra dust, noxious odors and flies to Hinkley.

"We produce less dust than a farm. There's more pollution on the freeway than what's going to be produced from our facility," Seney said.

He said that by allowing cities in San Bernardino county to ship their biosolids to the Hinkley plant, the shorter distance will prevent millions of miles driven by trucks, improving air quality.

"In the big picture were actually reducing truck traffic and air pollution," he said.

Hinkley School eighth-grader Anissa Wells attended the air test and said she doesn't think it's fair that the facility is planned close to her school and town.

"I think it's going to be a big problem," she said. "Hinkley's small, but there's really a lot of people here."

At the school, the composting plant is a frequent topic of discussion both in class and in weekly schoolwide assemblies, said principal Dennis Hirsch. Several hundred elementary students attended the air test, posing for pictures behind a large protest banner made by HelpHinkley.org.

"We are totally against the facility here at the school," Hirsch said. "The kids just need to learn it's a threat to the quality of life here."

Contact the writer: (760) 256-4126 or jason_smith@link.freedom.com