DENVER (CBS4) - With the start of a new semester, a pioneering air quality monitoring program is growing in Denver. Soon, Denver's Department of Public Health and Environment will install sensors at 12 new schools, bringing the total to 21 sensors around the city.
It's all part of the Love My Air Denver program, which started with the installation of sensors at 9 DPS schools in August. The goal is to have sensors at 40 schools within the next two years.
The three-year program is funded by a $1 million Bloomberg Mayors Challenge grant awarded to the city.
Data from the nine active sensors is currently available to anyone on an easily-accessible, online dashboard. The web page, which can also be viewed on a centrally-located TV screen within each participating school, shows the real-time pollutant level for each specific location, as well as a 24-hour trend line.
The sensors monitor for PM 2.5, a pollutant with long term health effects for children.
"They definitely notice the colors when it does change," said Stacy Parrish, principal at Northeast Early College, which received its sensor at the beginning of the school year. "It's something I love that they have. That they can look at every single day and see what the air quality is like around their building."
Northeast Early College is one of the first nine schools to join the program. The others are Swansea Elementary School, Garden Place Academy, Sabin World School, Gust Elementary School, University Prep-Steele Street, South High, Bruce Randolph M&H and PREP Academy M&H.
The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment shaped the program and reached out to schools based on reduced lunch rates and asthma rates.
"I think air quality isn't something the average adult talks about every single day, let alone teenagers," said Parrish. "If you live in the Denver Metro Area, air quality has to be part of the conversation."
According to DDPHE, 11 percent of students within Denver Public Schools have asthma, which is above the national average of 8 percent. In a previous interview with CBS4, the department's Air Quality Program Manager said one of the main drivers for lower attendance is asthma.
Eventually, the department hopes it can use the data being recorded by the sensors and use it to work with the city and school district to create policies and curricula that better protects students' health.
"So, really starting those conversations," said Aubrey Burgess, Community Engagement Coordinator for Love My Air Denver. "Long term can we influence some type of asthma policies in Denver Public Schools? Within our city can we prioritize construction projects within our Public Works Department so they're not occurring the last week of school? Can we move them to non-school times?"
Theoretically, schools could also use the data to make more immediate changes, such as delaying or limiting recess time because of the pollutant level. A representative for DPS said an anti-idling campaign or air quality curriculum could also be implemented eventually.
For more immediate actions, DDPHE is also providing handheld air quality sensors to school nurses, as well as asthma information and sample inhalers.
"It's really important that we're using the information we get from the air quality monitoring system to just inform how we support those students and how we are recognizing triggers in their own health plans," said Parrish.
The installation of the next 12 sensors will occur over the next two months. It could take several more months for the corresponding dashboards to be ready for the pubic.
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