Trying To Be Greener

Safer eco-living, one day at a time

How safe is the air your child breathes at school? December 10, 2008

Filed under: children,health,lead — Kirstin @ 9:02 am
Tags: , ,

Earlier this week, USA Today ran a story about their eight months of research exploring the consequences of industrial pollution on the air around schools across the nation. They identified schools in toxic hot spots, which was something the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had never undertaken.

  • 127,800 public, private and parochial schools were ranked based on the concentrations and health hazards of chemicals likely to be in the air outside.
  • At Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in East Chicago, Ind., levels of manganese were more than a dozen times higher than what the government considers safe. 
  • A middle school in Follansbee, W.Va. is nearby a group of plants that spills out tens of thousands of pounds of toxic gases and metals a year.
  • In Huntington, W.Va., results showed the air outside Highlawn Elementary School had high levels of nickel, which can harm lungs and cause cancer.
  • 435 schools that ranked worst weren’t confined to industrial centers.

USA Today goes on to say, “Scientists have long known that kids are particularly susceptible to the dangers. They breathe more air in proportion to their weight than adults do, and their bodies are still developing. Based on the time they spend at school, their exposures could last for years but the impact might not become clear for decades.”

“The U.S. EPA, which has a special office charged with protecting children’s health, has invested millions of taxpayer dollars in pollution models that could help identify schools where toxic chemicals saturate the air. Even so, USA TODAY found, the agency has all but ignored examining whether the air is unsafe at the very locations where kids are required to gather.”

The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) has reported since 2001 about schools located in areas where the air pollution poses an unacceptable health risk to young children from chemical contamination. They have asked the federal government to establish school sitting guidelines to be used as a tool for local school boards. CHEJ has requested this since local school board members are not typically scientists, toxicologists or air modeling experts.

Last year Congress passed Subtitle E of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which advised the EPA to issue national voluntary school siting guidelines by June of 2009. However, the EPA has not taken steps to develop these guidelines. 

You can find out information here on schools endangered by toxic air pollutants across the country and get information on sending  a letter to your congressman or your local paper.
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4 Responses to “How safe is the air your child breathes at school?”

  1. Thanks for pointing this out, Kirsten. People can also go to and enter their school’s zip code to find out if there are any major polluters near them. You can also get contact info for the industries to let them know your community’s children deserve clean air to breathe.

  2. Thank goodness my kids’ school isn’t on the list. That said, their school isn’t perfect — they use hand sanitizer like it’s going out of style, the cleaning products are not earth-friendly, and don’t even get me started on the cafeteria waste.

  3. Its amazing to me how we have this knowledge but it takes so long to act on things. There is no reason why these schools can’t take immediate steps to clean the air either through add on filtration systems or even portable ones until they can get the entire facility done.

    Its obviously harder to control the air outside the schools and that’s a larger problem we all face. I would love to see our priorities shift toward spending money where it really counts…our future generations.

  4. castercomm Says:

    Indoor Air Pollution is a growing concern not just in our schools but in our homes. The growing rate of asthma and allergies in this country is directly related to the toxins we pollute our land, water and air with every minute of every day. Our children, with their small bodies and faster systems metabolize these toxins at a higher rate. After Greenbuild in November, I wrote this article about How the Air You Breathe Could be Making You Sick, and provided some tips that Greenguard shared that you can start at home and hopefully get your schools to start thinking about.

    The post is here if you are interested:

    Thanks for the story,

    Kimberly Lancaster

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