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Students have access to cleaner air in class thanks to statewide initiative

Posted at 5:25 PM, Aug 15, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — As children head back to school this week, parents may notice some quietly humming machines in classroom corners.

Many schools now have air purifiers in their classrooms, given to them for free as part of an initiative led by the Utah Department of Health and Human Services and a group called Utah Physicians For a Healthy Environment.

The initiative was funded by a federal grant given for cleaner classrooms during the COVID pandemic, with the group having until July 31 to get as many schools and daycare centers on board for accepting the free air purifiers as they could.

Dr. Brian Moench, the president of Utah Physicians For a Healthy Environment, said the organization met it's goal with around 73% of children in the state now having access to the purifiers in their classrooms.

“It almost seemed too good to be true,” said Cory Lunt, director of Miss Billie’s Kid Kampus Pre-K and Daycare Center.

The center received 18 air purifiers, which sit in the corners of each room.

“If nothing else, it makes us feel like we're doing something proactive,” said Lunt, “We're actively trying to do something that is better in the environment for our children.”

Dr. Moench estimates around 700,000 children will benefit from the program’s success, along with the teachers and other staff in the buildings.

“That's a tremendous benefit to their own personal health, to the development of their lungs, to the development of their brain, as well as their ability to perform in school academically,” said Moench.

The doctor explained how Utah has added layers of air quality concerns that children in other states don’t face.

“The dust that we're all concerned about from the Great Salt Lake has high levels of neurotoxic heavy metals like arsenic and mercury,” he explained. “Plus, because of the altitude and the increased ultraviolet light, we know that we're exposed to more ozone, higher ozone levels than other major cities are; and ozone is one of those pollutants that can be toxic to the brain.”

Although the federal grant money is no longer accessible, Moench and other physicians will continue to try and gain more time and resources for the estimated 250,000 children heading back to school this fall without the cleaner air from purifiers.

“We are hoping that state officials will find another source of funds so we can continue this, because we believe very much that this is probably the most important clean air initiative in the state in the last 20 years,” said Moench.