Summer 2018

Clean air champ

Courtesy of Matt Spiten

Matthew Spiten’s appreciation for the environment began on a trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, where he took note of the pristine air and water. “I was 21 or 22 and had this aha moment where I wanted to start engaging with the outdoors,” he recalls. His newfound passion led him to launch the Sierra Student Coalition, a chapter of the Sierra Club, at the University of Minneso-ta Rochester (UMR) in 2017. A recipient of several UMR scholarships, Spiten, ’18 B.S., worked with area physicians and others to lead a study of air quality in the city.

Why air quality?

My interest is respiratory care. I wanted to know if there were areas in Rochester where people were exposed to higher levels of inhalable particulates and whether that could cause asthma or exacerbate pulmonary disease. 

What did you learn?

We found there was a higher level of particulate matter during commute times. We also learned that the citizen scientist model, where students and community members take measurements, is feasible for collecting data. 

What’s next?

We presented our findings to Olmsted County public health officials, and we’ll continue to build the data. There are many ways to try to improve the air. One might be to move to electric buses, which the city is considering.