The Effect of Air Quality on Student Attendance

Olivia Jiang

Despite improvements in air quality nationally since the 1980s, Salt Lake City is still among the regions in the United States and the world with the worst air quality. Smoke, dust, and vehicle emissions have been lingering in the air for years, being a great danger to our health. But has it begun to affect students’ attendance?

  First, why is good air quality important? Poor air quality is extremely deadly, causing over 100,000 premature deaths and over three million deaths worldwide each year. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on air-pollution caused illnesses each year, according to the National Weather Service. Additionally, asthma can be a result of poor air quality, and pollutants can cause worse symptoms and more attacks. Bad air quality can impact students’ health, leading to lower attendance rates, and air that is smoggy enough can affect students driving to school and their attendance.

  I asked students if the air quality affects their attendance, and if yes, why. The data I collected shows that the air quality affects attendance at school for one in eight students. The student who is affected responded, “Sometimes there will be a protest when air quality is bad, to protect air, so that’s when I miss school.” Those whose attendance was not affected did not think it is good for us, either. One student said: “It doesn’t [affect me], but it’s not pretty, either. It’s ruining our world.” Personally, the air quality has not affected my attendance. However, a few months ago there were one or two days where there was too much smoke from the wildfires, so it was difficult to see and drive but it did not affect my attendance.

Newspapers in Utah have been finding a correlation between student absences and polluted air over the last two years, with students in Salt Lake City School District in particular having a great increase in absences. Healio stated that air pollution levels correlate with the increase in school absences, because students are staying home after pollution exposure. The University of Utah noticed that there were more student absences when the air quality worsened. Even on lower levels of air pollution, schools saw increased absences. However, they are still researching and seeking data to find more links between student absences and poor air quality. The Salt Lake Tribune also commented that although most people would not think that harmful air would be associated with increased school absences, it often is. As well, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency noticed that poor air quality does not only increase student absences, but it decreases student academic performances, leading to more student dropouts. Scientists think that students are staying home on days with bad air quality to avoid exposure to polluted air if they do not have the diseases that are keeping them home. They also found out that young children are more vulnerable to long-term diseases from air pollution than adults, and the most absences occur a few days after terrible air quality. After comparing elementary, middle, and high school students, they discovered that there were noticeably more students absent in elementary school during high times of air pollution. Especially in the winter, to make matters worse after heaps of snow on the road, the cold, dry, polluted air makes it even harder to make it to school on time. Cooler air travels much slower than warm air and more inversions tend to occur in the winter, so having poor air quality in the winter could be a long-term problem. Although air quality seems to not heavily be affecting attendance for students from West, it may be affecting a number of students in Utah.

Unlike most places, Utah has more reasons for bad air quality than only car waste- we live in a desert, so we hardly get any rainfall, which makes our air very dry, and fires in the last few months have made it drier. Dry air is not much safer than polluted air- it could cause nosebleeds, asthma, bronchitis, and dehydration in general. Drier air could cause these diseases to worsen and potentially keep a student from attending school. Vehicle emissions in itself are also harming students. It releases many dangerous air toxics, such as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gasses from vehicles account for thirty percent of all greenhouse gasses of the total amount in the U.S., and ozone is one of the most significant health threats. The government has been trying to reduce these pollutants, but its success rate is doubtful. Salt Lake City is generally in the top twenty cities in the world for the worst air quality, according to rankings made by different newspapers and companies, such as IQAir and the Utah Department of Environmental Air Quality. Additionally, the TownLift newspaper announced as of January 2022, Utah has the worst air quality in the nation.

Global warming, climate change, and inversion all play a role in changing and lowering our air quality. The CDC says that higher temperatures caused by global warming and climate change increases allergens and air pollutants. Warmer air from temperature inversions are trapping air pollution from cooler air inside the earth and near the ground, which can stay there for months, until the weather changes. When the pollutants are near the ground, they are likely to interact with other pollutants, such as ozone, which make them a greater danger. This is worse in places with mountains, because the mountains act like a bowl to the trapped pollutants, keeping them there and making it harder for the cool air to escape. This makes Utah’s air quality even worse, since mountains take up the majority of Utah, and many people live on or near them.

Now that you know how bad the situation is, you might be wondering how you can help make the air quality cleaner. There are many simple ways to freshen our air without using money or doing much. You can bike or walk when possible instead of driving your car, and if your destination is too far away, you could carpool. Avoid burning things unnecessarily and using gas operated machines. Unplugging electronic cords when they are not being used is effective in preventing both global warming and poor air quality.

Overall, there are many students whose attendance is not affected by poor air quality, but there are also some students who are being affected and in the future, this number may rise. There are numerous health hazards that polluted air can cause, so we should try to keep our air as clean as possible, to protect our health and education.