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Citizen Scientists Help Create Healthier Environments

By Elizabeth Bishop, Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Health Educator

Are you inquisitive and curious about the natural world, human behavior or science? Have you ever wanted to contribute to research, but feel it is out of reach? “Citizen Science” is public involvement in discovery of new scientific knowledge. It has been used to measure bat migration, domestic animal behaviors, butterfly habitats and interactions between people.

Recently, a coalition of Fitness for Life Around Grant County (FFLAG), Grant County Champions and NKY Health used citizen science to measure air quality in Northern Kentucky and help create healthier environments.

NKY Health secured grant funds from Interact for Health for FLAGG and Grant County Champions to buy air quality monitors for testing air in indoor public spaces that allowed smoking. From February through May 2018, these coalition citizen scientists tested eight restaurants that allowed smoking indoors. They found that the highest peak levels were five times higher than the EPA outdoor standard.

The citizen scientists were stunned that anyone was expected to work all day in these unhealthy environments. It created a desire for community action. Coalition members began meeting and educating Williamstown City Council, and presenting the air quality test data. Coalition members also conducted surveys at the Grant County Fair, Derby Day car show and other events. Survey results showed that 98% of survey participants agreed that employees and the public deserve to breathe smoke-free air in indoor public spaces.

At the July Williamstown City Council meeting, FFLAG and Grant County Champions members presented their findings. In August, Williamstown City Council passed a first reading of a smoke-free ordinance. The NKY District Board of Health then approved Williamstown’s request to enforce the ordinance and on September 18, city council voted to approve the ordinance. The ordinance passed 5-1 and will go into effect Jan.1, 2019. Williamstown will be the first city in all eight NKY Health counties to pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance.

Congratulations to Population Health staff, FFLAG and Grant County Champions for successful health advocacy!