First Phase of Love My Air Denver Program Measures Air Quality to Tackle Asthma Rates and Track Pollution with Support from Bloomberg Philanthropies

Thursday, October 17, 2019

First Phase of Love My Air Denver Program Measures Air Quality to Tackle Asthma Rates and Track Pollution with Support from Bloomberg Philanthropies

Thursday morning students at Swansea Elementary School made their way to recess by passing under a newly installed television screen in the hallway. As the children walked by, the screen illuminated a green graph with the number 4.9 and the suggestion: “enjoy your outdoor activities.”

Installed in August, the screen, which is connected to an air monitor, is part of a pilot program to display real-time air-quality data from outside nine Denver schools. Parents and the general public can also check the air quality online.

The screens break down data on a simple four-tier scale: green for good air quality, yellow for medium, red for poor and purple for very poor. For now, the data is simply informational, but eventually it will be used in coordination with health data to create programs aimed at reducing youth asthma levels.

“Asthma is one of the top reasons that kids miss school,” said Christy Haas-Howard, an asthma specialist and a nurse with Denver Public Schools. “So this is about educating and empowering school communities.”

The pilot is the first phase in the Love My Air Denver program, a partnership between the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment and Denver Public Schools. It launched last year with $1 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies. In addition to the nine monitoring stations, the grant will help deploy air quality monitors at 10 more schools before the end of the year and a total of 40 by 2021.

Along with compiling the air quality data, schools are also collecting health data from students, which will be analyzed through a partnership with the University of Colorado.

The focus of the air-quality data collection revolves around tracking PM2.5, the scientific term for tiny shards of particulate matter. These particles — about 3 percent of the width of a human hair — can penetrate deep into the lungs and eventually work their way into the bloodstream. Particulate matter can be dangerous for anyone, but children are particularly susceptible because they tend to spend more time outside and are generally more active and smaller than adults...