Students sampling pollution levels around BYU campus for a class on air quality discovered a ring of high ozone levels surrounding the campus late last month, causing some to become concerned that local pollution levels may be unhealthy.
Ground-level ozone, which is also referred to as urban smog, is one of several pollutants regulated by the environmental protection agency because it is known to impact the health of those exposed to high concentrations of the gas. Prolonged exposure can irritate the respiratory system, decrease lung function and make individuals more susceptible to lung infections. Children, the elderly and those with asthma are especially at risk.
On campus, ozone levels were well below the .075 parts per million measurement considered acceptable by the EPA. Just outside campus, however, the students detected a ring-shaped area where ozone levels above that which is considered safe for outdoor activity. Samples collected on ozone-sensitive strips placed near the Clyde building, the Marriott Center and the Thomas L. Martin Building were especially high, while those taken near the HFAC and the library were low.
But the results didn’t come as a surprise to the class, according to Mindy Podwys, a junior studying exercise and wellness and a participant in the experiment. Podwys explained that ozone builds up when pollutants such as those produced by cars are exposed to sunlight, and the heavy traffic surrounding BYU’s campus led them to predict high ozone levels in those areas.
Nonetheless, Podwys said she became even more aware of the vehicles present on and around campus as she conducted her portion of the test near the library.
“Even on campus, we’re not immune to pollution from cars,” Podwys said.
As the class discussed the potential consequences of exposure to air pollution, Podwys said she became increasingly wary of exercising outdoors in the area surrounding campus.
“I don’t like walking outside,” Podwys said. “I don’t even like walking to school, because I can smell and taste the pollution.”
Zachary Anderud, the plant and wildlife science professor who led the class in the experiment, said he too anticipated the results, but that made him no less concerned for the students walking to and from class or jogging around campus.
“You’re healthy students,” Anderud said. “You’re young, and it might not be a big deal to you … but it’s not good for your health. I would never jog [outside] with all this junk in the air.”
But Anderud pointed out that the study was designed as a hands-on class activity and was somewhat limited by the assignment’s nature. Instead of a long-term test, the experiment took place on a single day, Nov. 28, and the students tested a fairly small area on and around campus.
Brandon Stocksdale, a senior environmental science major involved in the class experiment said that although the levels were high, he was not concerned about ozone levels around campus. He pointed out that the EPA does regularly monitor ozone levels within Provo and it has not been listed by the EPA as an area with concerning levels of ozone in the past.