Deadline nearing for Utah schools to get free air purifiers

Jul 12, 2023, 6:59 PM | Updated: 7:15 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Back-to-school preparations aren’t quite in full swing yet, but time is already running out for a program local doctors say could make a difference in your child’s brain development and learning at school.

A federal grant program offering free air purifiers for classrooms is set to expire at the end of July.

Sean Slack always has an air purifier humming quietly in the background at his Salt Lake City home. He considers it an important, everyday health measure for his two children, just like applying sunscreen or washing their hands.

Slack would know, considering he’s also a physician.

“We’ve seen benefits not just from a health standpoint of viral illnesses, for example, but also with cognitive improvement overall,” he said.

Slack helped make sure his youngest child’s school took advantage of the federal program to receive funds for air purifiers. His older child’s school, Emerson Elementary, also tapped into those funds.

The program began as a way to help protect against the spread of viral illnesses like COVID-19, according to Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

“They don’t require any invasive measures, no masking, anything like that,” Slack said. “They can just sit quietly in the back of the room and do their thing. And so, from a cost standpoint for an individual as well as the school system, it’s essentially nothing. And it provides a lot of improvement for everyone.”

Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, explained how UPHE teamed up with the Utah Department of Health and Human Services to spread the word across the state and administer funds.

“This is probably the most important clean air initiative in the state in the last 20 years,” Moench said.

He described how Utah kids face tough challenges with air pollution, in some cases more than children in other areas. Moench talked about the toxic dust from the Great Salt Lake, the dreaded inversions, and he said the higher altitude means kids breathe faster and inhale more pollution plus they experience higher levels of ozone.

“We have many studies that show, in particular, the air pollution levels at school can affect their ability to learn, their cognition, their memory, their behavior,” he said.

They’ve been successful at getting many schools to sign up, but Moench said time is of the essence for the rest to get on board before school starts this fall, because the federal funds expire at the end of July.

“We’ve placed air purifiers in about 70% of the schools so far,” Moench said. “But that means about 30%, we have not. And that means about 240,000 students are not being able to take advantage of this.”

He’s encouraging parents to reach out to their kids’ schools to see if they’ve applied for the federal grant money.

Parents can learn how to get involved and schools can find out about the application process here.

Slack made sure both of his children’s schools were good to go with the program.

He’s hopeful other kids will start class this year with clean air.

“The more that we can do that to optimize the environment for them, the better you feel as a parent,” he said.

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Deadline nearing for Utah schools to get free air purifiers