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North Idaho, New Zealand Students Hold An Air Quality Symposium

Screenshot from Cromwell-Pinehurst meeting

Students in north Idaho on Monday talked about the air quality of their town with kids in southern New Zealand. It’s part of an ongoing dialogue facilitated by faculty at the University of Montana.

“I’d like to welcome everybody to the first annual Cromwell and Pinehurst, Idaho air quality symposium," said Brett Taylor, the education coordinator at the University of Montana’s School of Public and Community Health Sciences. Taylor is a former science teacher who is working with a colleague to teach students about the air quality in their communities.

On the face of it, Pinehurst, Idaho and Cromwell, New Zealand have little in common. Pinehurst sits in a valley that’s surrounded by steep hills. Cromwell is a tourist community that sits on the shores of a lake.

But both have mining histories, lead and silver in Pinehurst’s case, gold in Cromwell’s. And both have issues with air quality, particularly with inversions in the winter months that trap pollutants close to the surface.

Students from schools in both communities talked about projects they’re doing to learn about air quality. In Cromwell, where summer is beginning, students have focused on measuring carbon dioxide. In Pinehurst, on the verge of winter, they’re focused on particulates from wood burning. That led to this exchange.

“Are you guys starting to burn fires and what do you burn? Like wheat wood or coal or dry wood?” asked one student in New Zealand.

He was answered by Pinehurst teacher Eli Bourgard.

"I just took a quick poll. Just under half of our kids are lighting their woodstoves right now. It hasn’t been getting real cold yet, but probably in the next few weeks there will be a lot more of us but, right now, about half of us are burning wood.”

Brett Taylor says he plans to convene another video meeting with students from the two nations next spring.