In an August 2015 study on short-term particle pollution, the American Lung Association ranked Salt Lake City as the seventh most polluted city in the nation. Concerned Rowland Hall sixth graders have decided to do something about it.
Each year, Middle School Math and Science Teacher Molly Lewis incorporates environmental education into her science curriculum. In past years, students have studied the city’s air quality by accessing data from the Department of Air Quality (DAQ). Now, thanks to a donation to Rowland Hall from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, students can add new data to their research with their very own Purple Air sensor. Placed outside the Middle School entrance, the sensor monitors air quality in real time.
Students focused their research on PM2.5 air particles—fine particles with diameters less than 2.5 micrometers. These particles have been determined to pose the greatest health risks. By gaining access to PM2.5 readings right outside the door, students can hypothesize and test their theories, experimenting with a scientific phenomenon that threatens their own community.
Sixth-grader Ella Houden is conducting an experiment that looks at the PM2.5 count as a function of automobile traffic. She measures levels during morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up (high traffic), and then she compares that data with PM2.5 levels at mid-day (low traffic). Although Ella compliments Rowland Hall parents for not idling, she suspects the PM2.5 peaks with the traffic.
Sixth-grader Samantha Lehman is using data from the sensor placed at 18th Avenue in Salt Lake City to compare PM2.5 levels in the Upper Avenues with those outside school. She hypothesizes that due to atmospheric conditions, she will find higher levels of PM2.5 at the Lincoln Street Campus than in the Upper Avenues.
Purple Air sensors are growing in popularity throughout the Salt Lake Valley. Along the Wasatch Front, over 40 sensors are reporting air quality in real time. When asked how the data from Purple Air sensors compares to that of the DAQ, sixth grader Tyler Gerstein said that although the data is not equivalent, the data gathered by the Purple Air sensors is more than sufficient. “These monitors are attainable and great for personal use. Anyone interested in monitoring air quality should get one for their home,” Tyler said.
Rowland Hall sixth graders hope their research and discoveries will be used to inform and educate the general public. Olivia Milavetz said poor air quality affects everyone, and with convincing data at students’ fingertips, they are motivated to inspire change.
“Everyone can pitch in to make a difference in air quality,” Ella said. “By simply walking more and not driving on the weekends, we can reduce the number of pollutants we put into our air and into our lungs.”
UPDATE: Kimberly Nelson from Good4Utah Channel 4 interviewed our students about their experiments. Hear what they had to say here.