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We are the future

From supporting the wickedly smart and engaged next generation to learning how to work together in new and more meaningful ways, what does it mean to truly empower people to solve our air quality issues? One key way is that researchers are learning how to avoid simply using communities to collect data and are instead finding ways to more deeply engage with communities. This shift to responsive research respects and incorporates community concerns, expertise, and experiences in solutions, creating opportunities to build both trust and long-lasting impact.

Change can start small

Stop a stranger on the street and ask them about air quality and you’ll likely get mixed responses or weird looks. The reality is air quality isn’t broadly understood by most of us. But sometimes a small thing can grow awareness and make air quality more accessible and intuitive for those of us who wouldn’t think twice about what’s in our air. Take for example a health department collaboration with a local library to create a community ozone garden that illustrates the damage bad air causes to plants, animals, and people. Ground-level ozone is invisible and a component that forms smog. Yet by turning people’s fascination with plants into curiosity about air pollution, awareness grows. And awareness can lead to action.

How far we’ve come and how far we still need to go

The very first piece of federal legislation, dedicating funding for research into air pollution, was passed in 1955, yet the biggest flurry of legislation and regulation in Colorado has been in the past decade. But in the lag time between adoption and impact, some want faster and more drastic changes, while others worry about unintended ripple effects. Plus, building trust in communities that have historically been left out of the process is key for true change to take effect. But while change has been slow and incremental, change is happening. 

Bad air affects us all, no matter where we live, but the burden is not equal, and we cannot be complacent about that. Since our air is often invisible, it can be easy to ignore. But as we gain knowledge, it just might be harder to look away. 

DSST: Montview High School CubeSat Team , Brandon Lee, Henoc Mahary, Caleb Woldemichael, and Henock Tilahun (L to R)
Dr. Lisa Cicutto, Director, Community Outreach and Research at National Jewish Health
Molly DeWolff, Youth Services Librarian, Anythink Libraries
Brian Hlavacek, Environmental Health Division Director, Adams County Health Department
Jeremy Neustifter, Director of Air Quality Policy, Air Pollution Control Division
Michael Ogletree, Division Director for the Air Pollution Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Lucy Molina, Environmental Justice Advocate

Further Reading

“Community Science: Advancing Community Priorities Together,” Association of Science And Technology Centers (ASTC).  

“Ozone Gardens,” National Parks Service (NPS).

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