Dunboyne Clean Air is an environmental education STEM project. We developed our scientific skills to solve real-world environmental issues in our community and in a global context. There are often wide variations in local air quality going undetected that can have significant impacts on the health and well-being of local communities. Our school is beside a very busy road and traffic intersection which all members of our school community pass by every day. The health effects of air pollution are serious – one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution. Air pollution is closely linked to the burning of fossil fuels and climate change. We investigated how human activities are impacting on air quality locally, nationally and globally. We explored the links between unsustainable forms of transport, climate change and how weather and air pollution are linked. Throughout this project we had the following objectives: to promote awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals and about local and wider air pollution and to explore the links between climate change and unsustainable forms of transport. We examined how our actions in our school and community will help to achieve some of these goals and help tackle air pollution and climate change at a local level. We identified a problem based on questions from our school curriculum and from observations of our local school environment such as cars idling their engines at the school drop off point. We set about creating an investigation plan and research question for our project. Our STEM team installed diffusion tubes to measure average nitrogen dioxide levels in our school environment in a four week period in October 2019 and a two week period in February 2020. Nitrogen dioxide is a pollutant produced by vehicles and some industrial processes.
Our results from October 2019 were somewhat surprising: the measurement at the sheltered area at the back of the school (16.40 µg/m3), was slightly higher than the measurement from the school drop-off point at the local library (15.34 µg/m3). The result for the ‘Near a busy road’ reading was the highest of the three readings at 20.27 µg/m3. We compared the results from our school with those of the other schools in the programme and also compared our results with those schools in the ‘Town 5,000 to 9,999’ population category. We found the sharing of data from all participants in the GLOBE programme to be very beneficial to our broader understanding of air pollution in terms of population size, location etc. We considered that the ‘sheltered area’, which is between the Junior School and the Senior School buildings, might have acted as a ‘trap’ or ‘pocket’ for the air pollution with little chance for air to circulate and disperse the pollutants, hence the slightly higher reading. We repeated the measurements in February 2020. The NO2 Concentration (µg/m3) readings for the sample near a busy road have increased from 20.27 in October to 21.90 February. The two other readings have also increased from 15.34 in October at the school drop off point to 17.79 in February and from 16.40 in the sheltered area to 17.12 NO2 Concentration (µg/m3). Our readings were above the mean average figures in all three cases. From our analysis of the results from all schools involved in the project and those in the ‘Town 5,000-9,999’ category, we saw that our school results came about in the middle of the overall results which means that there is definite room for improvement in our local air quality. We realised that while our results were not the highest from among all participants in the programme, we could certainly improve the air quality in our school. Based on the above results and analysis, we launched an air quality campaign called #DunboyneCleanAir.
Actions to help lessen the problem
We partnered on this project with Climate Detectives (ESA), the Climate Ambassador Programme, Open Schools for Open Societies, Irish Aid Awards , ECO-UNESCO awards, The Asthma Society of Ireland, neighbouring schools, our Library, Scouts, Tidy Towns and ongoing work with twinning schools: Regio Parco school in Turin, Italy and Passe-Partout school in the Netherlands. We recorded our investigations through research posters, photography, art, writing, poetry, digital logbooks, PowerPoint and iMovie. We participated in The Tephra Citizen Science Experiment- Can use of volcanic ash reduce the amount of CO2 in the air?; exploring the possibilities of negative carbon emission technology for climate. We presented our projects in the school, the school website, the GLOBE International Virtual Science Symposium, the GLOBE website and at ECO-UNESCO Young Environmentalists Awards. We hosted an open science day in the school to launch our Dunboyne Clean Air campaign in association with Dunboyne Tidy Towns. We designed posters with a particular focus on idling cars to raise awareness of this important health promotion initiative. We placed signage in prominent locations in our community with the support of our Parents’ Association, neighbouring schools, our local Library, Scouts, Tidy Towns, local businesses and other community and sporting organisations. We shared our project at a national science exhibition and on local radio. We were very proud to be national finalists at the ECO-UNESCO Young Environmentalist Awards. A video we produced about our project was featured at the GLOBE end of year webinar for participating schools and on EPA Ireland social media. We engaged with the scientific method in this inquiry-based activity. We discovered that air pollution can impact on human health, ecosystems and vegetation. By working with our families and community, sharing our work, we succeeded in bringing citizen science and STEM education to our community.
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