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GASP Offering FREE Clean Air Kits that Engage, Educate Students With Interactive Games, Activities

To some, it might just have been a plain old brown cardboard box. But for one youngster attending the Volunteers of America after-school program in Sharpsburg—Mitchell—it was the promise of a fun Friday afternoon.

As soon as his gaze fell upon it, he strolled over to GASP Education and Events Coordinator Chelsea Hilty, telling her with a smile: “I remember you from last year…and the box. Those are pig lungs, aren’t they?”

Hilty answered in the affirmative, and the exchange quickly attracted the attention of some of the students who just stepped through the doors—yanking off their coats and making their way over to the table to see if they could sneak a peek.

But there were no peeks to be had, Hilty told them, explaining that there were some things they needed to know about air pollution first.

After a back-and-forth talk about sources of air pollution, and how those pollutants affect people’s bodies, she let them know the first of several air quality adventures was about to commence.

She asked them: Did you know there is something called lichen that can help you determine if your air quality is good or bad? She explained that they are bio-indicators, and showed them examples of the various types before telling them to get their jackets on—they were headed to the local park to see if they could find some lichen for themselves.

One little girl scoffed, saying, “I’ve been to the park a lot and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“Maybe you just haven’t looked for it,” Hilty replied, ushering the kids out the door and guiding them to the local park, where they donned mini-magnifying glasses and examined trees and benches to see what they could find.

Within minutes, the little detectives found lichen on most of the tree trunks they looked at, and learned that the type growing there was an indicator of OK air quality.

“It’s not good and it’s not bad,” Hilty explained to as they began walking back to home base to learn more about air pollution monitoring—and before getting to what many obviously considered the main event: Those pig lungs.

“Even though people and pigs look different, we’re not so different on the inside,” Hilty told them as she unpacked the lungs from their airtight container and set them out for display. “A lot of our organs look the same.”

She attached a pump and filled the pig lungs with air to simulate how the respiratory system works, as well as how air pollution affects breathing.

“It stinks!” one student exclaimed while another shouted a simple, “Ew!” Still another asked if he could touch them.

“Yes, you can touch them,” Hilty responded as the kids crowded around to get a closer look at the pink pumped-up pig lungs, a look of wonder on their faces.

A question-and-answer period rounded out the presentation, which was provided in conjunction with Venture Outdoors—a local nonprofit that runs a youth outreach program at the Sharpsburg facility, as well as others across Pittsburgh.

Thanks to a grant through the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund, GASP is now able to provide these presentations—as well as three associated air quality education kits—to local schools for free.

These air quality kits can be used in the classroom, at after-school programs, or even a summer camp setting. They include fun, hands-on activities like the pig lungs to help students learn more about:

  • Air quality and health
  • Environmental science and citizen monitoring
  • And air quality, energy and technology

Teachers in schools across Allegheny County may borrow one, two, or all three of the kits completely free of charge. GASP will also provide free delivery. In addition to the instructional materials included as part of the kits, a member of GASP’s education staff will conduct an Air Quality 101 presentation.

Teachers and administers are encouraged to email us at to find out more information or to request one of more of the kits.

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