Merkley, Wyden: OSU Receives Federal Funding Award to Boost Wildfire Smoke Resiliency in Oregon 

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced today Oregon State University (OSU) received $667,500 as an initial award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a set of interventions that includes tailored toolkits and resources that can be used by schools, preschools, and daycares to reduce wildfire smoke exposures and increase community resilience across Oregon.  

The investment comes through the EPA’s new Wildfire Smoke Preparedness in Community Buildings grant program—which Merkley created in 2022 as Chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee—and is designed to fund projects that assess, prevent, control, or abate wildfire smoke hazards in community buildings that serve the public, and that serve disadvantaged communities or vulnerable populations.  

“As climate chaos intensifies, so do extreme wildfires and hazardous smoke events—events that endanger public health and impact everyday life for those under the plumes of dark smoke,” said Merkley. “I created this program to help ensure communities in Oregon and across the West have access to the resources they need to protect themselves from the dangerous smoke and heat. I look forward to seeing the work OSU does to better equip our school and communities with the resources they need to take on this crisis.”  

“With the climate crisis we face today, fires in Oregon and neighboring states are burning hotter and bigger than they ever have before with smoke impacting every corner of the state,” Wyden said. “This investment builds upon my work to combat the effects of fire and smoke on Oregon communities. Ensuring our children are protected from breathing toxic air is of the utmost importance as we continue to add tools to our wildfire mitigation toolkit.” 

Merkley first announced in January that OSU was selected for one of nine grants totaling $10 million through the federal grant program. Now, Merkley and Wyden announce OSU has received $667,500 as a first installment of its award, which was approved for a total of $763,500.  

The federal investments will be used for activities that lead to increased smoke readiness planning, outreach and training, and identification and preparation of cleaner air shelters. Specifically, the project will develop, test, and implement a scalable school-based intervention in select schools in Southern Oregon. 

“The frequency and intensity of wildfires are on the rise, and the smoke they generate impacts our schools,” said Dr. Molly Kile, Professor and Director of the OSU ASPIRE Center. “This EPA grant will bring together experts in public health and engineering at Oregon State University and Smokewise Ashland to develop practical smoke plans for schools, empowering them to prepare, react, and recover swiftly from the impacts of wildfire smoke.” 

Dr. Kile’s team at OSU will be developing and testing these smoke plans with Oregon Child Development Coalition (OCDC). They will first test the plan at OCDC Briscoe Site for Headstart in Ashland, Oregon, where the team is currently monitoring air quality, adding portable air cleaners, and will develop smoke planning at the building and organizational level for coordinating response and decision-making during smoke events. Additional schools in Southern Oregon will be selected by OSU to participate in the future utilizing the federal grant funding. The final research will produce a complete toolkit and materials to be shared with other schools that are at high risk of wildfire smoke exposure. Successful completion of this project is slated to enhance smoke preparedness planning and wildfire smoke mitigation for schoolchildren across Oregon.