The Environmental Protection Agency will monitor 62 schools across the nation to determine whether the air around them contains toxic pollutants. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a written statement that “EPA, state, and local officials are mobilizing to determine where elevated levels of toxics pose a threat, so that we can take swift action to protect our children at their schools.” Schools in 22 states were on the agency’s list. Texas and Ohio had the most, with seven each, and Pennsylvania had six. The agency chose the schools after:
• examining the best information available on air pollution near the schools;
• gathering information on wind direction and speed; information from state and local air agencies; and
• the results of a recent newspaper analysis.
USA Today reported in December that the air outside 435 schools appeared to be more toxic than the air outside an Ohio school that was closed in 2005 because of unacceptable air quality. The newspaper based its findings on a government computer simulation. The government also used computer modeling to help choose the 62 schools. The schools include those in major cities — Los Angeles, California; Seattle, Washington; and Chicago, Illinois — as well as smaller towns — McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania; Story City, Iowa; and Tarrant City, Alabama. The schools range from elementary to high schools.
The EPA will redirect $2.25 million from community air monitoring grants to fund the plan. The monitoring will be phased over three months and will continue for 60 days at each school. Two types of pollutants in the air will be measured: those in gas form, including benzene, which U.S. authorities have declared a known carcinogen; and those in particle form, including metals. The pollutants monitored will vary by school, based on the best available information about the pollution sources in the area. The EPA has already identified the pollutants to be monitored at each school. After the monitoring, the EPA says it will analyze the results and project the potential long-term health concerns related to cancer and respiratory and neurological effects. If potential health concerns are high, the EPA says it will take steps to “mitigate the pollution causing the problems.” The results from the project will be made public.
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