Clean Air, Healthy Kids: What I Learned as an Intern

by | Apr 19, 2019

Over the past spring semester I have had the privilege of working as Gasp’s ASBA Public Health Intern for 2019. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the staff and learning about the impact that air pollution has on our everyday health. When I first started, I had no knowledge of how poor the air quality is in the Birmingham Metropolitan area.

While learning the ins and outs of my responsibilities as an intern, I was also learning important information that contributes to the quality of our air. A source that I personally found helpful is Airnow.gov. It provides the local air quality conditions and posts important announcements regarding the air quality index (AQI). Every day the Air Quality Index (AQI) tells you how clean or polluted your outdoor air is, along with associated health effects that may be of concern. The AQI translates air quality data into numbers and colors that help people understand when to take action to protect their health.

As Gasp’s Intern, my project focused on the Clean Air, Healthy Kids initiative. More than 120 million people in the United States live in communities with unhealthy levels of air pollution. Impacted the most are children and teens, older adults, people with heart or lung problems, and people who are active outdoors. The more we know about the quality of our air, the more we can do to protect the health of those most at risk. The goals of the Clean Air, Healthy Kids initiative are to:

  • Teach students in the greater-Birmingham area about how air pollution affects human health.
  • Reduce exposure to ground-level ozone, particulate matter, and other harmful air pollutants.
  • Amplify scientific knowledge and interest among Birmingham-area schoolchildren.
  • Inspire future generations of scientists and environmental advocates in the greater-Birmingham area.
  • Nurture relationships with educators, parents, and communities.

Another aspect of this initiative is the EPA’s Air Quality Flag Program. Schools and organizations all across the country raise a flag every day alerting their communities to the quality of the air they breathe. The color of the flag matches the color of the Air Quality Index. For example, if the flag is green, the air quality is good; if the flag is red, the air quality is unhealthy. Because these flags increase awareness of air quality, hundreds of thousands of people are better equipped to make decisions that help their exposure to air pollution.

Another element is using digital air monitors for citizen science. We want to work with schools to install a stationary Purple Air PA-II-SD sensor outdoors at the school’s location. This allows students to observe the air quality data and give them hands-on experience with the science of air monitoring. This program not only educates children on what they can do to improve our air quality, it equips students with greater scientific literally and greater ability to interpret air quality data.

In addition to the EPA flag program and digital air monitoring, Gasp offers worksheets and educational activities, classroom presentations, an Air Quality Widget for schools websites, and workshops for teachers!

My overall experience as an intern has been very beneficial and has opened my eyes in a brand new perspective. My exposure to Gasp and what they advocate for will carry into my professional career as a future healthcare provider.

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