Youth En Route recently partnered with the Calgary Region Airshed Zone, an organisation dedicated to monitoring and managing air quality in Calgary and surrounding regions. In collaboration with other organizations and communities, CRAZ tracks and analyses air quality to enforce and develop strategies against air pollution. Their vision is to have air quality that is not harmful to human health or the environment.
During the interview with Tanya Carlson, the Engagement Programme Manager at CRAZ, she highlighted the extensive coverage of CRAZ, which includes 10 airshed zones reaching areas such as Banff, Chestermere, and the furthest being Devil’s Creek.
Carlson emphasized the need to work together with other communities since air doesn’t stay within city limits. Carlson said, “If everyone makes one change, our air will be better. As a parent, it is our role to know and to teach the kids what they will need to carry on”, reflecting on the future of her teenage daughter.
In her position at CRAZ, Carlson explained that her role involves spreading awareness and organizing educational events. Consequently, the partnership between Youth En Route and CRAZ began when Carlson reached out to Laura Shutiak, the executive director, through social media. As CRAZ faces challenges reaching schools and educating students about the Purple Air monitor and air pollutants, Youth En Route stepped in to facilitate such interaction. Youth En Route sponsored the device with a $500 contribution from their Alberta Eco-Trust Improvement Fund, allowing each partnering school to decide how to allocate the grant money based on their interests.
Fortunately, Lord Beaverbrook High School became the first high school in the region to install the PurpleAir device, allowing the community to benefit from air quality monitoring. This collaboration has paved the way for CRAZ to extend their monitoring efforts to other communities and start their outreach to younger students.
How does the monitor work?
In short, the PurpleAir monitor is a powerful air quality sensor that accurately measures temperature, pressure, humidity, and various pollutants. It is especially valuable for monitoring air quality during events like wildfires, thanks to its real-time data monitoring capabilities. It focuses on PM2.5, a harmful particle that poses serious health risks, especially for individuals with asthma or heart and lung conditions. Setting up the device is super easy, all it needs is a power source, WiFi, and a safe spot. Once in use, the PurpleAir sensor automatically collects and shares data on public map websites, requiring minimal maintenance. Its purpose is to empower individuals and communities to make informed choices and take necessary actions to reduce PM2.5 and improve local air quality.
At Lord Beaverbrook High School, the assistant principal, Ms. Konschuh, and the Physics and Science teacher, Mr. Coninx, were motivated to introduce the PurpleAir outdoor air pollution monitor. Both were inspired to install such a device due to their love of biking safely to and from school. However, due to roof renovations and the school year ending, the device will be activated in August 2023 to ensure accurate data and avoid potential damage. It is placed in a high location on the school’s corner.
The purpose of incorporating the PurpleAir device aligns with the belief that students should comprehend the role of science in society and the importance of evidence-based decision-making for their own benefit and the benefit of their families and communities, especially regarding the environment.
Mr. Coninx explained, “By understanding the level of pollution around us, one specific action individuals can take is to bike to school. When students have access to PurpleAir data, they may be more inclined to discover how easy and beneficial it is to ride their bikes daily, promoting regular exercise.”
The data collected from the PurpleAir monitor will be analysed and incorporated into various science classes at LBHS, including Science 10, Science 14 and 24, Science 20 and 30, and Biology 20 and 30.
Here are some examples that Mr. Coninx provided on how the PurpleAir monitor data can enrich the knowledge of the students:
- In Science 10: Students will analyse time trends and location trends in the CRAZ region. They will collect data, use graphing applications, and draw conclusions based on the data, underscoring the role of evidence.
- In Biology 20/30 and Science 30: Students will explore the impact of pollution levels on respiratory, circulatory, and overall health. They can also compare filter tests and pollution readings from the PurpleAir device.
- Physics 30: Students will dive into the mechanics of the device and its operation, comparing it to household CO2 or smoke detectors. Topics such as photocurrent and stopping voltages will be covered.
“When students can make a connection to themselves, the issues become real and impactful”, continued Mr. Coninx.
Both Carlson and Mr. Coninx expressed their short-term goal of installing the device to inspire understanding and support teaching by using real-time data collection for pollution and raising awareness about air pollution’s impact on health.
“Messages have been changing for the past 8 years, everyone used the wrong terminology. Only now people started to care since the indexes have become so high, we hope to keep that going,” added Carlson.
In the long term, their expectation is to foster consistent use of the device in classrooms, enabling students to learn about their environment and the effects of vehicles and industries on air quality, as the topic of air pollution is not yet covered in the curriculum.
Youth En Route, as the initiator, aims to not only educate about CRAZ, its goal, and mission but also compare pollutant levels between car-filled parking lots and days when students bike to school. This comparison sets out to inspire students to choose active modes of transportation, promoting sustainable transportation practises and a greener community environment.
In the future, we hope to have more schools install the PurpleAir monitor to have an opportunity to compare the PM2.5 particles around the schools and anticipate finding out the impact of bike-to-school days when car travel is reduced.