|Research May Build the Case to Clear the Air for Davidson School Children
June 26, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
Story and photos by Laurie Dennis, reprinted with permission from DavidsonNews.Net
The little white plastic tubes wired to trees and telephone poles at select locations in Davidson are easy to miss. Silent and unobtrusive, they might not seem important, but the tubes are holding filters that measure air pollution. Davidson College research student Nina Mace ’10, working with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Cindy Hauser, is checking them throughout the summer as part of a study of local air quality.
|Mace changes air quality filters as school buses rumble by.|
When all the data is in, the study will provide information about smog, the impact of “the car line” in front of Davidson Elementary School, and other factors related to the air that town residents breathe.
Mace is among forty-eight current students, five alumni, and three students from other schools who are engaged in research projects this summer with Davidson professors.
Hauser, her mentor, has been measuring emissions around Davidson for two years, since first learning about the long line of cars that idle along South Street twice each school day as parents pick up and drop off students at Davidson Elementary School.
Adam Sperduto ’06 and Matthew Wilson ’06 helped her early on by conducting traffic counts. “They came back with an unbelievably high number for a side street,” Hauser recalled. “I said, ‘OK, this is a valid thing to study.’”
Then Hauser and another student, Sara Madison Davenport ‘07, conducted an initial study comparing ozone concentrations and nitrogen oxide levels at the corner of Concord Road and Main Street with emissions in front of the Elementary School. The conclusion, written in the fall of 2006, found “no significant difference between pollutant exposure in front of the school relative to the corner of Concord-Main.”
In other words, standing in front of the elementary school during a school morning or afternoon exposes children and adults to the same levels of pollution as standing at the busiest intersection in town.
|(l-r) Mace and Hauser check data at Davidson's busiest intersection, the corner of Main and Concord.|
Hauser and her students have continued to refine their work, with Mace now using the thumb-sized passive air sampler coated filters to test for levels of three pollutants:
• Ozone, the main pollutant in smog, is produced naturally, but also forms when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, and other sources react chemically with sunlight. Ozone can cause permanent lung damage.
• Nitrogen oxides, produced when fuel is burned, can combine with oxygen to produce ozone.
• Sulfur dioxide is emitted by burning diesel fuel.
“It’s a full suite,” Dr. Hauser noted.
The filters are up at the Main Street intersection, and on South Street, to collect data at these two heavily trafficked sites. Filters on Lorimer Road measure what should be a “normal” side street level of air pollution. Finally, filters are also located on a cross-country trail behind the college, where there is no traffic at all, to provide a baseline measurement.
Mace is spending ten weeks this summer checking on the filters, running them through a spectrophotometer, collecting weather data, counting traffic, and recording data. “I’m really interested in health issues,” she said, adding that she hopes to go to medical school.
Mace will also prepare a community survey about air quality as an education component to the study. Hauser will continue to collect data through at least December. Then she plans to present the findings to parent groups and others, such as the town’s “Davidson Walks” committee. She might propose to school officials a “no-idle” policy, developed by the Carolinas Clean Air Coalition, as a way to cut pollution at Davidson Elementary and elsewhere. Current rules restrict school buses from idling, but cars in front of schools are not restricted.
Hauser said the study is somewhat unusual in that it focuses not on a large urban area or on comparisons with a metro area, but instead looks at several locations within a single small town.
“Davidson is considered semi-rural in terms of air current and air quality,” she said. “When your baseline quality is essentially excellent, then it’s the car line and the traffic through town that is producing the pollution. That’s it.”
Funding for the project comes through the college Community Service Office’s Stone Fund, and through the Department of Chemistry. Mace is a Merck/AAAS Scholar, and is also supported by the Associated Colleges of the South Environmental Program. Hauser and Mace hope to submit their work eventually for publication in a professional journal.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by U.S. News and World Report magazine.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz