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Students at Dana Middle School Tackle Air Quality Challenges

On Wednesday, June 2, students from Dana Middle School convened in the school’s auditorium to present findings from their own air quality research in San Pedro to top policymakers from the region.

The students, broken into small groups and led by Ms. Elise Traylor, a 7th grade science teacher, took turns sharing PowerPoint presentations on particulate matter, source pollution, and other Port-related impacts to air quality. Each group walked through the scientific method, sharing their hypotheses, experiments, and conclusions. One group compared particulate matter counts at public parks near and away from the Port of Los Angeles. Another compared air quality on construction days to non-construction days on a neighborhood street in San Pedro.

The presentation was the culmination of a yearlong, $68,000 grant awarded to Coalition for Clean Air (CCA) by Harbor Community Benefit Foundation (HCBF) to pilot a Port-related air quality monitoring education program for 160 students at Dana Middle School as part of HCBF’s Healthy Harbor Grant Program.

After presenting, policymakers took turns sharing their own perspective on air quality. Students had the opportunity to ask each policymaker a question.

Chris Cannon, Director of Environmental Management at the Port of Los Angeles, applauded the student’s engagement with the scientific method, while sharing details about the Port’s various air quality programs, such as vessel reduction speed incentives. Heather Tomley, Director of Environmental Planning at the Port of Long Beach, noted that curriculum devoted to air quality and particulate matter did not exist when she went to school, and that it was vital in preparing students to tackle environmental challenges.

The policymakers included:

  • Chris Cannon, Director of Environmental Management, Port of Los Angeles
  • Patricia Castellanos, Commissioner, Port of Los Angeles Harbor Commission
  • Heather Hutt, District Director, Office of Senator Isadore Hall, III
  • Lara Larramendi, District Director, Office of Congresswoman Janice Hahn
  • Dr. Joe Lyou, Board Member, South Coast Air Quality Management District
  • Dr. Clark Parker, Board Member, South Coast Air Quality Management District
  • Jeanette Parker, Superintendent, Fresh Start Charter Schools
  • Heather Tomley, Director of Environmental Planning, Port of Long Beach

To conduct their experiments, students used a handheld air quality-monitoring device called AirBeam. The low-cost device is a wearable air monitor that maps, graphs, and crowdsources air pollution exposure readings in real-time through a smartphone app. In his remarks, Dr. Lyou, who is also Executive Director at CCA, noted that such monitoring was impossible only five years ago, because the devices cost too much or were not reliable. The falling cost and improved accuracy is allowing students and community groups in the Harbor to take an active role in monitoring and studying Port-related air quality impacts in their own neighborhoods.

CCA and Dana MS plan to continue the program in the next school year.