From air quality to clean water, driving research for the people of Arizona to uncover new solutions to persistent challenges is the purpose of the newly created Regents’ Grants, announced this week by the Arizona Board of Regents.
“The grants are designed to fuel research that will have far-reaching impact focused directly on Arizona and its residents,” said ABOR Chair Lyndel Manson. “Through innovative collaboration that brings together the expertise of Arizona’s public universities and varied state agencies, the transformative research is expected to make a positive difference for the state and the quality of life for Arizonans.”
Consider these daunting facts:
- Arizona leads the nation in people infected with Valley Fever. In addition to the personal toll, it has a substantial economic impact on the state, nearing $700 million in direct costs.
- Air quality – specifically ozone levels – in Maricopa County does not meet standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and is linked to increased asthma attacks, hospital admissions and mortality rates.
With funding from the Regents’ Grants, the universities and state agencies will work together to unlock solutions to these and other pressing challenges in Arizona. The board office engaged with staff from Governor Doug Ducey’s office, the Arizona Department of Administration, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Department of Water Resources to develop a list of significant challenges facing the state. Those “problem statements” form the basis of the first round of partnership and funding for the new Regents’ Grants.
“The Regents’ Grants are an outstanding example of the power of working together and leveraging different skill sets to solve problems,” Governor Ducey said. “Arizona depends on a strong economy. Healthy citizens and clean, safe communities are essential to a bright future for all. I applaud the vision of the Arizona Board of Regents in establishing the Regents’ Grants and commend the partnership of state agencies to create a healthier future for all of us.”
Funded by Technology and Research Initiative Funds – dollars paid by every Arizonan at the cash register – the first Regents’ Grant partnership is with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and Arizona Department of Health Services with grant dollars directed toward challenges such as contaminated water, Valley Fever and dust, recycling and high ozone levels.
“Through these Regents’ Grants, our great hope – and strong belief – is that we can improve the lives of Arizonans and future generations,” said Regent Fred DuVal, chair of the Research and Health Sciences Committee. “Combining the innovation and expertise at our public universities and state agencies is a common-sense approach to unlocking many of these challenges that continue to puzzle experts. Arizona taxpayers have a right to expect a return on their investment and this research promises strong outcomes for our state.”
“Combining the practical problem solving of state agencies and the robust research resources of the state’s universities in my opinion is no less than brilliant,” said Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Misael Cabrera. “It couples the practical with the possible and reminds us that policy is often best informed through rigorous research and applied science to solve our most pressing problems.”
Arizona Board of Regents Executive Director John Arnold shared, “This is an exciting opportunity to improve the quality of life in Arizona and I extend my sincere appreciation to Director Cabrera for his vision and partnership. Regents’ Grants encompass collaboration at its best – leveraging the expertise of our university researchers with state experts. We look forward to additional partnerships in the future and realizing the many benefits this program will provide.”
The board approved five proposals for Regents’ Grant funding. In partnership with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, researchers from the universities will collaborate with state experts to address the following:
- Improving the air we breathe: High ground-level ozone levels affect residents in Maricopa and Yuma counties and studies show ozone exposure leads to higher levels of asthma, hospitalizations and mortality. Experts from the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and ADEQ will conduct field studies to verify emissions, work to model and predict Arizona ozone concentrations and identify opportunities to mitigate high ozone levels, including development of potential incentives addressing ozone reduction strategies. The board approved $2.8 million in funding over three years.
- Controlling Valley Fever and dust: Valley Fever and dust are major and growing health and air quality issues in Arizona – especially in Pinal County and parts of Maricopa County where increased water restrictions are anticipated as a result of Arizona’s long-term drought. Experts from Northern Arizona University, UArizona, ADHS and ADEQ will work to develop a better understanding of how Valley Fever is transmitted via wind-blown dust. Technologies created at ASU will be tested to suppress dust and Valley Fever in fallow fields. The board approved $4.5 million in funding over three years.
- Removing “forever chemicals” from water supplies: While it is a complicated name you might not know, it is literally all around you. Per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are frequently referred to as “forever chemicals” and are a group of chemicals used to make products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. Found in a variety of products, from clothing to furniture and food packaging, these chemicals do not break down in the environment and can move through soil and contaminate drinking water sources. One drop of “forever chemicals” can contaminate 18 million gallons of drinking water. In Arizona, unhealthy levels of PFAS compounds are found in valuable water sources. UArizona and NAU in partnership with ADEQ are working to create cost-effective technologies to measure and remove PFAS compounds from our water. The board approved $1.5 million in funding over three years.
- Managing waste from abandoned Arizona mines: Abandoned mines can contaminate water supplies with heavy metals, which impacts drinking water for municipal systems, private wells, livestock and wildlife. In partnership with ADEQ, researchers from ASU, NAU and UArizona will inventory abandoned mines to identify potential risks and work to create environmental management options. The board approved $1.5 million in funding over three years.
- Making recycling economical again: After China ended global recycling imports in 2018, towns and cities in Arizona are challenged to find an economically viable recycling strategy. In partnership with ADEQ, experts at ASU and NAU will develop computer models and tools to evaluate recycling options to help different-sized municipalities explore feasible recycling strategies. The board approved $1.6 million in funding over three years.
Regents’ Grants are designed to deliver solutions to Arizonans in collaboration with the Governor’s Office, state agencies and state experts by:
- Accelerating and delivering solutions to crucial unmet needs for the state of Arizona.
- Leveraging synergistic skill sets and equipment from multiple Arizona public universities.
- Establishing centers of excellence to generate sustainable future research funding.