I think, logically, we're going to see that lower elevations have increased pollution and upper elevations see those effects later in the inversion. We need to acquire this kind of data in order to approach the problem on a very specific level where we look at individual communities. —Erin Mendenhall
HERRIMAN — A particulate matter sampling device was installed at Fort Herriman Middle School on Monday to help state officials and local experts understand the roles location and elevation play in air quality.
The school was one of four along the Wasatch Front that will be housing and operating the air sampling devices through early March. The collaborative effort between Breathe Utah and the Utah Division of Air Quality also will place devices at Morningside Elementary in Holladay, Glendale Middle School in Salt Lake City and Scott M. Matheson Junior High in Magna.
Breathe Utah, a group of local air quality experts, is hoping the four locations will provide state officials with air quality data that correlate with differences in topography across the valley, according to Erin Mendenhall, the organization's executive director.
"I think, logically, we're going to see that lower elevations have increased pollution and upper elevations see those effects later in the inversion," Mendenhall said. "We need to acquire this kind of data in order to approach the problem on a very specific level where we look at individual communities."
Kevin Hart, a Division of Air Quality environmental scientist, said there are about 25 similar monitoring stations throughout the state. The data collected from the monitors are used to inform the Environmental Protection Agency and the public about the levels of Utah's air pollution.
Science teachers from the schools will maintain the monitors by installing filters that will collect particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, every Tuesday and Thursday, Hart said. The filters will later be taken to a state lab to measure how much particulate matter was collected during those time periods.
Localized air quality information provided by the monitors is useful in determining what mitigation efforts are necessary in certain locations, Hart said.
"Each area is different," he said. "Obviously, if pollution levels are high in Cache County, it's not going to do much good to tell the industry in Salt Lake that they need to cut back on pollution, because the pollution that's created here isn't necessarily going to go up there, and vice versa."
To Hart and Mendenhall, the schools are more than just convenient locations for the monitors.
It's important to get "the younger generation involved with air pollution because they're the ones that are going to have to deal with it in the future," Hart said. "If we can teach the younger generation that pollution is here to stay and that we all have to do something about it, then hopefully they will step up and take an active part in it."
"There is a lot of momentum to do what we can to protect our community health and improve our air," Mendenhall said. "There is momentum to approach this problem from as many angles as we can, and I think more data will help that."
Hart said he hopes the data will bring further awareness to the problem of air quality.
"I think the main concern is getting people to realize that it's not everybody else's problem," he said. "It's a problem for all of us. We all have to do our part to keep pollution levels down."