Into Thin Air: A look into why the air surrounding us is so important

By: Lo Hutelmyer, Venture Outdoors Youth Program Manager and Brittney Aston, Venture Outdoors Trip Leader Specialist

It is generally known that poor air quality can lead to serious health problems. That’s exactly why Venture Outdoors and Women for a Healthy Environment have teamed up. These organizations are working together to share their knowledge with students in a fun, interactive way at several after-school programs around the Pittsburgh area.

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Air quality lessons are just a few of the regular outdoor programs that Venture Outdoors facilitates with its six after-school and school partners: Mt. Ararat in East Liberty; Providence Connections and Manchester Academic Charter School on the North Side; the Center that C.A.R.E.S. in the Hill District; and the Brashear Association and A Giving Heart in Allentown. Through the Youth Outdoor Recreation Program (YORP), Venture Outdoors Trip Leaders meet twice monthly with over 130 area youth in grades K-6 to engage in outdoor recreation and to educate them on environmental topics including air quality.

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On these particular air quality lessons, the Venture Outdoors Trip Leaders were assisted by Chelsea Holmes from Women for a Healthy Environment, another Pittsburgh organization that is focused on educating the public on healthy living. These lessons allow the students to measure the amount of particulate matter in the air through what is known as a Speck monitor – a small, easy-to-use device that can be plugged into a power source and visually shows changes in the level of particulate matter in the air on a screen. These monitors were developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Create lab and can be checked out by anyone from the Carnegie Library. Chelsea and her co-workers at Women for a Healthy Environment have worked with students in using the Speck monitors before but have never been able to bring these lessons outside – until now.

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In order to bring the monitors outside, Venture Outdoors provided portable solar power systems donated by Green Mountain Energy. Similar in size and shape to a standard briefcase, the solar power systems have a portion of a photovoltaic (PV) panel on one side and a flashlight on the other. Energy from the sun hitting the PV panel is converted into electricity that is then utilized to power up a small device that is plugged into the outlet – in this case, the Speck monitor. With two portable solar power systems, students were able to plug in the Speck monitors in various locations outdoors in order to enhance the lesson and increase the amount of data they were able to collect. Additionally, the students were able to see first hand how a solar panel works.
Students recorded the detected fine particulate matter and monitored the changes and trends in particle concentration while spraying hair spray, Axe body spray, baby powder, and even water into the air!

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Students were amazed at how these everyday products change the quality of our air. After using baby powder in the same area as a Speck monitor, students observed the fine particles (PM2.5) raise to over 1,600! This definitely made the students rethink the use of products regularly utilized in their homes.
It’s easy to forget exactly what you are doing to the air around you because you can’t specifically see the damages. That is why Speck monitors are so crucial to this lesson plan and learning development.

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OUTDOOR News

  • An Overview of Pittsburgh City Parks

    March 28, 2017

    By: Grace Cooper 

    Besides being a beautiful city, Pittsburgh has some lovely parks maintained for us by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. So, as we make our way into spring, let’s take advantage of the beautiful recreation areas our city has to offer!  

    Emerald View Park 

    Emerald View Park is the place to get a good view of Pittsburgh. The 257-acre park is actually a combination of three older parks on Mount Washington, Grandview, and Olympia. The wooded hillsides are perfect for hiking, biking, walking—whatever suits your mood.

     » Read more about: An Overview of Pittsburgh City Parks  »

  • Venture Outdoors Youth Programs

    March 21, 2017

    How our team is impacting young lives around the city.

    By: Meg Taylor, Youth Program Intern

    Here at Venture Outdoors, we are known around the city of Pittsburgh as the people that get you outdoors. Whether we take you kayaking along the Allegheny River downtown, on a morning hike in Schenley Park, or cross country skiing at Kooser State Park, you’ll always find us doing something fun outdoors. In addition to the public programs you can find on our website  Activities Calendar, we have also found a way to work outdoors with youth in our local communities. 

     » Read more about: Venture Outdoors Youth Programs  »

  • Mount Washington- A Spring Ritual

    March 14, 2017

    By: David Paul

            

    It rises over everything around it, offering a commanding view of the landscapes that define its rugged region. Despite its steep, unforgiving slopes, tourists flock to it year round, ascending to the top by automobile, a special type of rail car, bicycling, and even using their own two feet. Mount Washington’s vistas offer anyone who makes it to its top a sense of accomplishment; it’s a place for families, friends, couples, and individuals to take in one of the best backdrops in the United States and offers a meaningful place for reflection,

     » Read more about: Mount Washington- A Spring Ritual  »

  • Trail Tails from Witch Doctor

    March 7, 2017

    By: Brian Beach, Youth Program Intern

    Virginia is absolutely the longest state on the Appalachian Trail. I might have had a beard during my 2005 Appalachian Trail thru-hike down in Georgia or Tennessee, but it became a “Grizzly Adams” beard in Virginia. I imagine there was a specific mountain where I snapped due to the solitude. (If so, it was probably Sassafras Mountain. There were at least four or five with that name.) The evolution of a thru-hiker from a “backpacker” to a “homeless person” is less obvious to those residing on the trail. Regardless, it was certainly in Virginia that I became a little more salty than usual.

     » Read more about: Trail Tails from Witch Doctor  »

  • Getting to Know our Staff: Fifteen Questions with… Lora Woodward

    February 28, 2017

    By: Grace Eggleston, Communications Intern

    We are continuing our staff spotlight series. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes brain power that goes into planning your favorite programs, be it public, family-friendly, or custom outings. Learn about those who work inside so you can get outside.

    This week we’ll be interviewing Lora Woodward, our Program Director.

    1. Briefly tell us about your background: where did you grow up, where did you go to school, and what brought you to Venture Outdoors? 

    I grew up in Harrisburg, PA on a four-acre property across from my grandparents’

     » Read more about: Getting to Know our Staff: Fifteen Questions with… Lora Woodward  »

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 Spring Wildflower Walk
Sunday, April 30
10 AM – 1 PM

Join local ecologist Henry Schumacher for a tour of one of the most vibrant local spring wildflower patches here in Southwestern PA. We will take in the fleeting beauty of this annual natural wildflower display and discuss the ecology of wildflowers and their role in the ecosystem.

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