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Weber State University professor Hal Crimmel donned goggles, a persona named Captain Clean Air and a hand puppet named Badger inside the WSU Charter Academy’s kindergarten classes on Tuesday. A member of the WSU Environmental Issues Committee, Crimmel is working to help this generation and the next understand the danger of Utah’s air pollution.
The classes welcomed Captain Clean Air and Badger, chanting along with phrases such as “green air good, red air bad” and “less than 10, turn off your engine.” Crimmel taught students the differences in air-quality ratings and asked them to encourage their parents not to idle when dropping them off in the A parking lots near the school’s doors.
“Sometimes, when your moms and dads drive their cars, they stop the car and leave the engine running,” explained Crimmel to the students. “But if it’s less than 10, turn off your engine . . . then we can play outside more!”
WSU’s no-idling and no-smoking policies have been put in place since last semester to help combat the statewide poor air quality as part of a healthy air initiative for campus. The WSU Sustainability Office has been working to educate more people on campus about the policy, which encourages WSU drivers not to leave their cars idling for more than two minutes.
Senior Steven Strombel said he believes the no-idling policy and others like it will help make WSU better. “I think it’s great just to have initiatives to push us to be a more environmentally friendly school. I support anything that cuts emissions and saves energy.”
Sustainability specialist Jennifer Bodine said she believes efforts made to help awareness of issues on campus are a positive outlook for WSU. Her connection to the project is more than just sustainability education, as her daughter is currently enrolled in the WSU Charter Academy kindergarten class Crimmel visited.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Bodine said. “It makes a lot of sense, as you can see their kids are incredibly intelligent and are great educators. And I know my daughter. When she learns things, she brings a lot of that information home. That gets through the community that way, and I think it’s an incredibly smart way to do environmental education.”
Crimmel said he hoped to help children better understand environmental issues by providing Captain Clean Air as a “clean-air superhero.”
“It’s nice to help make kids aware of environmental issues. Air pollution is a really serious problem for kids,” Crimmel said. “In terms of kids learning about science in relationship to their health and the place where they live, it’s a really important topic . . . the kids are the next generation. It’s helpful for them to be thinking about environmental issues early on.”
Crimmel referenced several statistics from Brian Moench of the Utah Physicians for Healthy Environment, including that asthma and autism rates in Utah are much higher than the national averages because of environmental triggers such as air pollution. He also mentioned that the Environmental Protection Agency recently declared air pollution as a carcinogen.
Crimmel said certain portions of the state are in worse conditions than others. According to Crimmel, southern Davis County and northern Salt Lake County have three times the rate of asthma than the statewide average. Breathing air on one red-air day is as unhealthy as smoking half a pack of cigarettes.
“We need to wage war on air pollution,” he said. “It’s not something that will just go away on its own.”
Crimmel encourages concerned Utahns to contact their elected officials and urge them to make changes. “Maybe 20 years from now, we’ll look back and say, ‘Gosh, what were we doing?’ Kind of the way we think about cigarettes today . . . I think we’re hopefully moving that direction, just about the broader issue of air pollution.”