New $850,000 grant to help Utah monitor wildfire smoke and protect students
Feb 8, 2024, 7:08 PM | Updated: Feb 10, 2024, 12:05 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — We’ve all see it, the time in late summer and early fall when Utah skies become gray with wildfire smoke. Sometimes it’s from other states, sometimes it’s even from Canada.
Even in small amounts, it’s very harmful so the aim is to cut down on how much our children are exposed to it. Clean air days, like Thursday, are all the more valuable when you consider just how much pollution residents of Utah endure. During fire season, that smokey much can linger for days.
“We have increasing wildfires throughout the west, oftentimes plaguing our air quality for as long as three or four months out of the year,” Dr. Brian Moench said. He is among those grateful to hear some $850,000 will go to helping Utah better monitor and respond to wildfire smoke.
He is the board president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. He said wildfire smoke is particularly toxic in part because its particles are so small.
“Smaller particles are more easily inhaled, more easily picked up by the bloodstream and then they can be delivered and actually contaminate the tissue of the body,” he said. “Including all the critical organs.”
“And in addition to that, fire pollution particles are also heavily saturated with a variety of toxic chemicals and heavy metals that enhances the toxicity,” Moench said.
The money, an EPA grant, will mean more monitoring tools around schools, helping administrators better understand when to bring recess indoors.
Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, said the grant could also help in the design of newer buildings to better clean the air.
“We’ll be able to better understand the difference in indoor and outdoor exposure and things like filtration plans — filters that can be put in classrooms to reduce exposure to those kids inside the schools.,” Bird said. “We’ve also worked closely in areas that are near roadways to make sure there’s filtration in place so that we’re reducing the additional exposure that comes from those near roadway schools.”
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment already helped place some 30,000 air purifies in Utah schools through a previous grant. The Division of Air Quality is working to get some of those, along with additional monitoring equipment in place by next fall.