Education has positive impact on air quality
Through her multifaceted work with the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, Stephanie May believes she and the agency have a direct, positive impact on Spokane's air quality.
Her roles as the public information specialist, the youth and education specialist and the communications and social media specialist allow her to use her skills and interests in communication and advocacy to help individuals and the community understand the impact they can have when they make good choices.
Stephanie's work intersects with many other agencies to inform people of air quality concerns, resources and actions.
"I'm interested in having a clean environment so my child and other children can play outside safely," Stephanie said.
"With the Clean Air Agency, I have seen how much change can happen if we advocate," she said.
Stephanie, who was an intern with the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency during her journalism and communication studies at Eastern Washington University, returned to the agency in 2016.
After graduating in 2007, she worked with Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington while living in the Portland, Ore., area for five years, and then in community outreach with a soccer club in Vancouver, B.C., while her husband completed a master's degree. Back in Spokane, they started a family, and she pursued her interest in environmental advocacy with the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency.
Stephanie's focus is on educational outreach for children and youth. The agency itself has been involved in air quality education with schools since they began their work more than 50 years ago.
During May, the agency is launching a "Clean Air Month" Poster Contest for children in K-6. The theme is: "Healthy Air Is Important to Everyone."
She sent information to educators to invite participation. The agency did not do the poster contest last year because of COVID, but previously held the contest in 2018 and 2019.
Stephanie is working through contacts at Spokane Public Schools and Mead Public Schools. She sends a newsletter to educators and it is also in the agency newsletter, "On the Air."
The Clean Air Agency also partners with Spokane EnviroKids, a cooperative program of Spokane County's Regional Solid Waste Agency, Stormwater Utility and Water Resources, the Regional Clean Air Agency, the Spokane Conservation District, Spokane Aquifer Joint Board, the City of Spokane Solid Waste Department and Water Department, the National Weather Service, the Library District and more to explore the many aspects of the environment—air, water, weather, garbage, recycling, plants and animals.
"We have scheduled events and had to continually push them back because of COVID. Normally we do programs at the public libraries with different agencies doing different activities," she said.
For example, the Regional Solid Waste System did a project on recycled paper, and the Conservation District led a project on painting with soil.
"We had children make particle catchers they could take home to see the air quality in their homes," Stephanie said. "We made them by cutting circles out of paper and covering those holes with double-sided tape to catch things floating in the air that they might not otherwise see.
"It's a good way for kids to grasp the concept of dust, pet hair and other things bigger than microscopic air particles," she said. "The kids observe themselves."
In October 2020, EnviroKids worked with the Spokane Joint Aquifer Board to offer a Virtual Science Fair Extravaganza with agency partners offering "booths" with activities.
Participants could go to different booths and do different activities.
"It filled a gap left when it was no longer possible to offer science fairs in elementary school gyms, where students would visit different tables and do activities," she said.
"It's a way to continue to reach out to do environmental education," Stephanie said.
The Virtual Science Fair Extravaganza continues as a resource at https://sajblearning.org with "booths" on Aqua Duck, building an aquifer at home, inspiring artists, meeting scientists on KSPS-PBS, master composting, recycling, weather, conservation, water, EnviroKids, clean air, solid waste, being water wise, the aquifer, science and food sense.
She said the Clean Air Agency also envisions activities children can do on their own through the school year, uploading activities as the agency creates them.
There were no plans for a 2021 Earth Day as of mid-March.
Stephanie said the Clean Air Agency also reaches out to offer direct help to high school students, especially those doing senior projects. The agency has an AirBeam personal air monitor it shares with groups at schools to map the air quality in their homes and schools. It's a hand held sensor that connects to a smart phone. A laser tabulates the air quality to help students see if areas they monitor are clean or polluted.
Five students at Pride Prep are using it now, and a few at Central Valley High School have contacted the agency for information.
Stephanie has also promoted and run the "No-Idle Zone" Program for middle and elementary schools, setting up street signs designating areas where parents come to pick up students, as no-idle zones, to encourage them to turn off their vehicles. About 35 schools are signed up.
"We provide the materials at no cost. They send information home, telling why idling is not good for respiratory health.
"We have seen changes as fewer drivers idle their vehicles," she said.
"Before recent summer forest fires, people didn't always think about air quality," she said. "Seeing smoke in the air, they realized air quality can quickly degrade. Many began to check the air quality index regularly. Education helps the community understand air quality concerns better."
People understand that what they do can have a positive effect on air quality—not idling or biking to work one day a week.
"Small changes can impact air quality," she said.
Each year from November to March, wood heating has a major impact on air quality. The agency runs a wood stove change-out program to help people replace old wood stoves for something more efficient. The 2020-21 grant cycle ran out in February with the agency having replaced 161 wood stoves, Stephanie said, reducing small particles in the air by 6.45 tons.
The agency's commitment to share the message about clean air includes community outreach to give presentations for faith communities.
With more working from home during COVID, the agency saw impact in what they were able to monitor with fewer cars on the road equating to better air quality.
While not downplaying detrimental effects of the pandemic, it "forced us to make many behavioral changes that can have a positive impact on the environment, many of which we might have thought were impossible or unreasonable—combining errands into fewer car trips, tele-working and using less disposable products," Stephanie said. "These are behaviors we hope will continue once the pandemic is over."
She urges people to reflect on behavioral changes to decide which ones are worth continuing and then do them.
For information, call 477-4727 or visit spokanecleanair.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree,April, 2021