Air quality class

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Blowing up balloons is usually a sign of celebration, but Arrowtown pupils are learning the town’s air pollution is no reason to party.

About 80 students from Year 8 carried out experiments to test the school’s air quality earlier this month, learning about the impacts of breathing in air pollution, as well as healthy heating habits.

They blew up balloons to measure lung capacity, and used sensors to record temperature, noise and humid-ity, among other activities.

It was all part of a National Institute of Water and Atmos-pheric Research (NIWA) programme.

The programme is aimed at empowering the Arrowtown community to take charge of reducing its notoriously poor air pollution.

It’s mostly caused by inefficient heating systems, such as outdated wood burners, and burning wet wood and coal.

Southern District Health Board figures show about 34 children in the district are admitted to hospital each year with a health condition partly caused by poor air quality. This includes asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and other respir-atory infections.

In the past, only one high-tech monitor – operated by Otago Regional Council – has been used to collect air quality data in the town, but NIWA has since developed smaller sensors, at a fraction of the cost.

NIWA’s principal air quality scientist Dr Ian Longley says 50 devices will be placed on power poles and a further 90 will be installed in people’s homes, over a three-month period.

He points out other New Zealand towns have seen improvements in air quality in recent years, but “that hasn’t seemed to happen much” in Central Otago, Southland and South Canterbury.

“Having more [sensors] around town means we can get more detailed information about what’s going on.

“People can evaluate how smoke is or isn’t getting into their house …We can evaluate people who are trying different ways of burning wood or using insulation.”

A smaller team of 21 pupils will help scientists chart and analyse the data.

Arrowtown School teacher Kelly Scoles says educating children is a great link to educating the entire com-munity, because it gets everyone on board.

“Measuring air quality makes the problem more visible; it’s easy to see plastic pollution, but it’s not easy to see air pollution.

“These children are going to effect change,” Scoles says.

miranda.cook@scene.co.nz