Months of reviewing ideas and conducting research on indoor air quality culminated April 20 with a Clean Air and Healthy Homes Program (CAHHP) symposium at Lathrop High School. Everyone walked away with a greater understanding of the dangers of dirty air. Fifty students, working alone or in teams, presented the results of their research to classmates and a panel of judges. They examined everything from pet dander to air fresheners to particulate matter in creative and innovative ways. The program, supported by the American Lung Association in Alaska, began last fall with science teacher training by a program curriculum author and researcher from the University of Montana Center for Environmental Health Sciences. CAHHP strives to incorporate rigorous environmental health content into K-12 science to expand Science, Technology, Engineering and Math learning and support teachers by facilitating student research and providing all the necessary equipment to make it happen. LHS science teacher Renee Parsley said, “Students were required to do the project for a grade but the goal of the project was always for students to design and present a scientific project by gathering local data which addresses a concern in our community from exposure to particulate matter, carbon monoxide or radon.” The projects gave students exposure to air quality components and measurements and increased their awareness about air quality and how it impacts health, Parsley said. Students learned basic information about radon, carbon monoxide and particulate matter and will be able to build on these projects in the future in science and statistics classes. Octavia Harris, American Lung Association in Alaska Fairbanks manager, said, “The air quality in Fairbanks is a problem. This is seen in the recently released American Lung Association State of the Air 2016 report. We also have recorded high radon deposits in our community. Providing youth the opportunity to learn more about PM 2.5, radon and carbon monoxide by conducting STEM-based research provides an understanding of how air quality affects human health. “The science and health education is what matters,” Harris said. “Children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases including lung diseases are severely impacted. Even people without chronic illnesses are impacted. Early education about these topics can potentially improve our knowledge and the air quality in the community. When you can’t breathe nothing else matters.” Harris hopes that students who participated now have a greater understanding of the science of PM 2.5, radon and carbon monoxide and the related health effects, especially the respiratory health effects. “Maybe some of the students will have a desire to pursue medical and health careers and make Fairbanks the home for their career,” Harris said. “The students took the topics and the presentations seriously as apparent by their presentations. “Our great hope is that the Clean Air and Healthy Homes Program could continue at Lathrop and expand to have students at other schools in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District participate in conducting projects and presenting their findings.” “We will do this again next year and hope to have more equipment and time to gather and analyze data,” Parsley said. “This year was an opportunity to increase awareness and grow.” This column was provided to the News-Miner by the American Lung Association, which partnered with students for CAHHP.
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