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Partnership Promotes EPA School Flag Program

The Southwest Pennsylvania Air Quality Partnership, Inc. (SPAQP) is working with regional schools to launch the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) School Flag Program to teach parents, teachers and coaches about outdoor air quality conditions so children can continue to exercise safely outside when air quality pollution levels are in unhealthy ranges. This specific project was launched in August and hopes to continue to 25 schools by mid-2014.

The School Flag program focuses on two main air pollutants: ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter. The Southwestern Pennsylvania region experiences many days when one or both of these pollutants are at high levels. Children are particularly susceptible to air pollution, which can harm their still developing lungs and trigger asthma attacks.

“This program is an important tool for teachers and coaches who are planning outdoor activities”, said Al DePaoli, Partnership chair. “By educating our students, their teachers, coaches and families, we can increase the air quality awareness in our region and help protect our children who participate in sports and other outdoor exercise activities (even in the winter). awareness in our region and help protect our children who participate in sports and other outdoor exercise activities.”

As part of the School Flag Program each day, students will check the Air Quality Index (AQI) forecast, a national guide for reporting air quality, and raise a colored flag outside their school that represents the day’s expected air pollution level. Based on the flag color, teachers, coaches, school personnel and parents can take actions, if necessary, to help safeguard students from exposure to unhealthy levels of air pollutants.

A green flag indicates air quality is good and poses little or no risk to health. The yellow flag signals moderate health concern, and orange means unhealthy for sensitive groups (like children, the elderly, and people with asthma). A red flag announces unhealthy air for everyone. A purple flag means the air quality is very unhealthy and everyone should avoid all outdoor activity (commonly used during local forest fires).

The School Flag Program is funded by the SPAQP and administered by GASP. Schools located in southwest Pennsylvania can participate in the program. For the 2013-14 school year, there are 25 openings for the free program on a first come, first served basis. Participating schools will receive a free set of air quality flags, grade and age-appropriate lessons on air pollution, and assistance with the school-specific program.

Ground-level ozone is created through chemical reactions between volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides emitted by motor vehicles and industry, in the presence of UV radiation. Ozone is highly reactive and damages cell linings causing swelling and inflammation in lungs and airways.

Fine particulate matter, also known as soot or PM 2.5, comes from many sources, including diesel and gasoline vehicles, coal-fired power plants, industrial activity, and wood burning. PM2.5 has significant impacts on human health, such as increased risk of asthma, strokes, heart attacks, cancers, and premature death.

Test Your School’s Air Quality IQ!

Healthy habits start at a young age. The SW Pennsylvania Air Quality Partnership, Inc. provides educators with free, fun and informative learning activities and resources that teach children about the impact of air pollution and all the ways they can contribute to help improve air. We provide teacher training on air quality issues.

What’s in it for you?

Healthier kids! There’s information everywhere these days that tells us our children are happier, more productive and learn faster when they are healthy. Finding ways to improve air quality at your school and empowering students to develop their own good air quality habits gives them a sense of pride that “they are doing their share for cleaner air!”

Invite Coach AQ!

Coach AQ is the mascot for the SW Pennsylvania Air Quality Partnership, Inc. The purpose of the mascot is to provide a fun, interesting mechanism to get our word out about air quality to young and old alike. The mascot is used at all major Partnership events, in schools, at community festivals and at our members’ events.

Coach AQ is a bright blue furry creature with big shoes that elicits a smile from even the shiest child. The blue color, representing blue skies, reminds us that clean air is important to our region

To reserve Coach AQ for your organization’s upcoming event or to identify a community event the Partnership should attend, please submit a request here.