New Jersey Students Help Peers Nationwide “Catch A Breath”

After learning that their state does not require testing for the indoor air quality in schools or public places, four students from All Saints Regional Catholic School in Manahawkin, N.J. set out to perform their own experiment. Their research earned them the 2009 eCYBERMISSION National title for ninth grade. Each student received $8,000 in U.S. EE Savings Bonds at the National Judging and Educational Event in Washington, D.C., held in June.

The “Catch A Breath” team, comprised of students Briana Gillin, Gianna Letinski, Anthony Mastrandrea and Hope Pitner, knew that poor air quality can have a profoundly negative effect on an individual’s physical health, so they designed an experiment to test the amount of air pollution in their school and in various local public buildings. Supervised by Team Advisor Stephen Kubricki, the students borrowed an indoor air quality monitor from
Quest Technologies which measures humidity, dew point, temperature, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other gases. They expected to find that the air quality would be poor in public places, but relatively safe in their newly constructed school building.

After tracking measurements over several weeks and at different times of the day, the students were surprised to discover that the air quality in local public buildings was actually fairly safe, maintaining satisfactory levels of all elements as defined by the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, the results of the testing done at their school was very poor. At times, the carbon dioxide levels were more than twice the recommended level, increasingly steadily throughout the school day. This corresponded with the records from the school nurse, which indicated a sharp rise in student visits toward the end of the school day.

The students presented these results to the principal, who initiated an investigation into the issue. Officials discovered that the school’s ventilation system had been damaged in a lightning storm and had not been operating effectively for months. As a result of the students’ experiment, the school’s ventilation system will now be repaired and tested regularly.

This discovery prompted the “Catch A Breath” team to invent a CO2 (carbon dioxide) monitor that can be placed on classroom walls and alert the class if the levels become too high. They are currently working to patent the monitor and have it available to all schools in the near future.

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