Monitoring Air Quality at My Child's School

I've read studies that say school transportation adds 20-30% to our traffic in the mornings and evenings. If that is true, it also adds 20-30% pollution to the environments around our kids' schools and there are studies saying that one-third of schools are in "air pollution danger zones" due to major roadways.

As my daughter enters pre-school this year I can't help but think her preschool playground and field are directly next to the street where idling parents sit for 30 minutes before school starts and before school lets out. 

Grassroots Air Quality Monitoring

The first day of school is getting closer and closer and I can't shake the feeling that we can do better for our children.

There are still hot days that are left this season where the "brown cloud" sits over Denver and the air quality index (AQI) that surrounds our kids' schools is potentially dangerous to be outside in. This topic is so important that Denver Public Schools is testing out air quality monitoring at a few sample schools (none in my area).

So, I ordered a portable air quality monitor to check air quality during pick up and drop off.


My upbringing was marketing analytics, so while I'm no environmental engineer I do have an idea of a baseline of data. Here's my plan (and I would love your feedback):
  • The week before school starts I will mount the air quality monitor to my bike to park it in the same place Thursday, Friday & Saturday from 7:30-9:30 & 2:30-4:30
  • Again next week after school starts on Thursday, Friday & Saturday at the same time. 
  • It will log readings every 96 seconds.

My hope with this schedule is that I get a baseline to create an average knowing a few additional "polluting" variables:

1. Teachers are already driving to school
2. Our school starts just before 9 am the school drop off can start as early as 7:30 am
3. Pick up is at 3 but can extend until 6 pm


In a perfect world, the results will make me feel better about life. I don't think we are there, but I hope to be proved wrong. Depending on how terrible the results are then I'll see if a friend can install an air quality monitoring system from PurpleAir directly across the street from the main entrance of the school or push for the school to install one ASAP. If the findings are terrible, then it spurs a conversation with the school about what can be done, for example, Safe Routes to School. 

While I am a huge proponent of Safe Routes to School that encourages biking and walking to school, I do realize that it isn't feasible for many, especially if your "home school" is 4 miles away from your school. (Read a whole study on school choice, environmental impact, and more here.)

There are a few core pieces to this which could include parents dropping off kids by bike if the distance is greater than the child can handle biking or walking on their own, and creating "drop off zones" away from the school so that kids can walk to school together with a volunteer/parent or by themselves as they get older. The idea of this is that it gives students some outside movement before/after school and it spreads out the exhaust from all those vehicles dropping off hundreds of kids a day. 

The project will begin later this week. Let me know if you have any tips or ideas!

Photo from unsplash

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1 comment

  • Jared

    I would recommend noting weather conditions and any air quality alerts or levels from government sources that may contribute to readings at a single location for these limited times. It may be hard to draw conclusions based on these readings relative to published safe levels of pollutants. There are a lot of variables that may be hard to marginalize out with limited data. Give it a try anyways.

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