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Air purifiers offered to schools, teachers

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Daily Herald | Sep 24, 2022

Brynn Anderson, Associated Press

An air purifier works to clean the air during a rehearsal at the Curling venue ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, in Beijing, China, Monday, Jan. 31, 2022.

Utah children and teachers now have the opportunity to breathe cleaner air in their classrooms.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Utah Department of Health and Human Services are offering every classroom in every school throughout the state an air purifier to filter out many of the toxins that come from pollution.

Dr. Brian Moench, president of UPHE, said growing research shows how toxic air pollution is to brain development and function. He said studies have proven that particulate pollution ends up in everyone’s brains.

“Some studies are so specific that they show the air pollution in a school can reduce test scores on the same day as the test, and reduce learning and memory over the long term,” he said. “The effect is found even with air pollution levels below the EPA’s standards.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Moench said that added another dimension to the benefits of reducing air pollution — COVID viruses, among others, can attach to particulate air pollution.

When viruses attach to pollution, the rate of transmission increases and causes a negative impact on lung function and inflammation of the heart and blood vessels, while increasing the risk of a severe or possibly lethal outcome from COVID.

Moench said having air purifiers in the classroom will improve student performance, make classrooms safer, reduce absenteeism and will improve the overall health of students and teachers.

“Medical research shows cleaner air helps protect long term brain development and function,” he said. “Our school children have suffered a huge setback in their education because of covid-19, so we should be doing everything we can to help them catch up.”

Moench said, so far, 50% of schools across the state have ordered the air purifiers. In addition to schools, the air purifiers will also be available for day care centers.

“That’s great because the earlier in life, the more critical the stage of brain development. So cleaner air for infants and toddlers will be even more important,” he said.

The air purifiers, made possible through a federal grant, are about the size of a medium suitcase. They are portable, on wheels, and use HEPA 13 and 14 filters with an activated carbon layer, Moench said.

“Utah has a unique mix of pollution problems. Classic winter inversions with high levels of particulate pollution are what we have been known for,” Moench said. “But in the last few years, we were also having persistent wildfire pollution for months at a time, high levels of summertime ozone, and dust storms from dry lake beds, primarily the Great Salt Lake.”

Children will still have to go outside for recess, which will cause harm, Moench said, but it will not negate the benefit of cleaner air back in the classroom.

“Obviously, ideally we should have clean air indoors and out,” he said. “This is the most important clean air program in Utah in the last several decades. School children have suffered a real education setback because of COVID. That makes this program all the more important. Every parent should make sure that their child’s school has these air purifiers.”

Schools can order an air purifier at http://uphe.org/free-air-purifiers-for-utah-schools/ or by emailing brandi@uphe.org.

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