Whitefish Students Begin Air Quality Program

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – Chemistry students at Whitefish high school are moving chemistry off the periodic table and into their own homes and neighborhoods.

Tony Ward, a University of Montana research assistant professor, joined the class Thursday afternoon to introduce UM’s Air Toxics Under the Big Sky, a five-year program that works with high schools in western Montana and Idaho to collect air quality samples. The students will use a $4,200 machine, paid for by a grant from Plum Creek Timber Company, to measure particulate matter within their homes and other locations in the area.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students to take something that is a public issue, with road dust and air quality in the news, and become a part of it,” Whitefish High School chemistry teacher Todd Spangler said.

This is the first time Whitefish will be included in the program, which will involve around 300 high school students ranging from schools on the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho to Libby High School.

Ward introduced the students to the physical dangers of particulate matter, namely asthma, and explained that previous research conducted by students helped to pinpoint the main cause for air pollution in western Montana: woodstoves. Student research in Libby homes showed that indoor air pollutants were seven times worse than outdoor air quality, Ward said. He hopes that Whitefish students will help to add information on both indoor and outdoor air quality.

Next spring the students will join other high school classes and present their data to researchers at the Health Science Symposium at UM.

“From the education point of view students really seem to take to the program and it’s great to have them contribute to our research and to see them excited about air quality and science,” Ward said.