Eighth-grade students work with DEP to study black carbon

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

The students at Camden’s LEAP Academy University Charter are studying the American Revolution like many kids their age. But an eighth-grade class was part of a unique pilot study.

Rutgers worked with the Department of Environmental Protection using their equipment to test the hypothesis that sound barrier walls reduce black carbon in an area.

“The walls along the highway that help keep the sound out of the environment around it actually also help keep black carbon away from the environment as well,” said teacher Jennifer Mooney.

Gas and diesel engines, coal-fired power plants are sources that burn fossil fuel. The federal Environmental Protection Agency says that’s black carbon, and it can have negative impacts on our health and environment.

“Just a little substance in the air can cause like health problems and cancer and all that stuff,” said Nairis Vazquez.

The Department of Environmental Protection’s Luis Lim says the department wanted to see if handheld sensors can be used to identify air pollution hot spots.

“This project, we were interested in doing more than just an educational component,” Lim said.

Students used devices with nozzles that were design to gather air and detect black carbon.

“We were just regular students, and we were walking around with the machines, we knew how to work them, we knew how to take observations,” said eighth grade student Ta’ajha Reyes.

“We also got to learn about black carbon and how it was affecting us, our ecosystem, and also our community,” said eighth grade student Lynette Flores.

The students conducted their study at three locations in Camden over about a week’s time.

“I think the conclusion from this study was that we needed to collect more data,” Lim said.

But in the meantime the class came up with some ideas on how to help the environment — from carpooling, to using bikes or electric cars.

“I definitely think that they have ways to come up with ideas that we may not think of, which it’s important to bring them in and get active into the environment,” Mooney said.

The students gained hands-on experience while also learning the value of taking care of the environment.

The students hope to continue the project next year.