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Air Quality in Rural Areas

In 2017, Center research on air pollution in the West observed that while nitrogen and sulfur oxide levels have decreased, particulate matter levels have increased because of more frequent droughts and wildfires. Continuing this work, our research seeks to identify ways to make rural populations (and vulnerable populations, in particular) more resilient to deteriorating air quality.

The School of Medicine’s Sean Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research links medical evidence from blood samples and other indicators to environmental conditions in the West. Partnering with them, our research focuses on identifying the best adaptation strategies (e.g. wearing masks, air conditioning, assessing the relative medical harm associated with controlled burns versus uncontrolled wildfires, etc.) that could protect people from these hazardous conditions. By linking policy recommendations to biological evidence, we can determine the medical value of various policy prescriptions for dealing with wildfire smoke and other pollutants. We are also collaborating with Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, whose researchers are helping collect better evidence and refine models about current and future rural pollution and wildfires.

As persistent drought and wildfires are becoming the “new normal,” this early work seeks to 1) develop policy options with client communities and 2) to assist them in developing education and awareness programs on these hazards. Through increased stationary and individual air monitoring, we hope to refine our understanding of local air pollution geography in rural areas and its impact on personal and population health.

Ongoing Research on Health and the Rural West

We believe this innovative, interdisciplinary collaboration between medicine, environmental science, and the social sciences is necessary for tackling the challenges facing the Rural West. It is our dream to take this model and replicate it across the West. We are excited by possibility of continuing this work in the states of Utah and New Mexico, where we believe there are interested and willing university and medical school partners. By starting with digital health and air quality issues, we want to create a scalable model for collaboration that approaches these issues from multiple perspectives.