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Canadian Catholic schools monitor air quality for the public

Canadian wildfire

Mark-Wu | Shutterstock

J-P Mauro - published on 10/02/23

Holy Trinity Catholic School Division is providing moment-to-moment updates on the air quality in Saskatchewan, thanks to an interactive map from Purple Air.

The quality of Canada’s air has become a major concern in the months since the March 2023 wildfires began. Even now, nearly six months after the blaze began, air quality maps place many areas of the country firmly in the yellow and orange shades, indicating questionable or dangerous levels of air pollution.As more concerns rise over the safety of outdoor activities, however, a division of local Catholic schools is helping out. 

Holy Trinity Catholic School Division in Moose Jaw has been developing a procedure to guide the community through issues of air quality since early September, in order to address concerns about outdoor events. According to Moose Jaw Today, in the school’s efforts to devise the right protocols for when the air quality is too poor, the administration identified a major hurdle in that they had no access to data on the current air quality for much of the Saskatchewan region. 

To solve this, the school examined all the available technology to monitor and report on air quality. The research led the staff to a device called “Purple Air,” that keeps administrators up to date with moment-to-moment changes in air quality. Mark Selinger, supervisor of technology and learning at Holy Trinity, told Moose Jaw Today that the constant updates of Purple Air’s system was particularly attractive: 

“It’s important to note, the air quality can vary from Regina to Moose Jaw — and it can change quickly too,” said Selinger. “So, this gives us real-time data to rely on.”

The system is similar to the one employed by the Canadian Football League in order to monitor air pollution at its games. Purple Air, however, comes at a fraction of the cost, at just $200 per device. The low price has allowed the division to install the Purple Air monitor in the its Moose Jaw office, as well as distributing more devices across the nine schools it runs in Saskatchewan. 

The result is an open network of air quality monitors that is free for anyone to view, as a valuable service to the community. Selinger noted that the nature of the air crisis in Canada has taken its toll on the entire community, so the division felt providing constant monitoring of the area’s air quality could give residents some “peace of mind”

“It was an unprecedented year in terms of air quality in the province. I think we all probably recognize that.”

He went on to explain that the idea arose when Holy Trinity saw school divisions in Saskatoon and Regina benefiting from access to data from Environment Canada reports. There was, however, no data provided for the Saskatchewan region. With few monitors between the Regina and the Alberta border, Holy Trinity felt it was prudent to provide the data they accumulate to the public at no charge

Holy Trinity is still fleshing out the finer points of its procedure for when air quality is too poor, but the data taken from Purple Air is expected to be essential to their decisions. It promised to share the new procedure with the school board once it is fine tuned to the Purple Air system.

The air quality map from Purple Air is not just free to use for people in Saskatchewan, but anyone who wishes to see the current quality of their air. While the map is limited to areas in which the devices are installed, there are quite a lot of them monitoring the air in Canada and the United States. Click here to see the interactive air quality map from Purple Air.

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