Kids Imagine the Clear Air Opponents & How Polluted Air Lingers Over School

BY ON June 13, 2011

This piece was cross-posted at Writes Like She Talks

Those children’s drawings and many more can be found here and here, courtesy of Ohio Citizen Action.  The posts are titled, “Children’s Drawings for Duke Energy.”  And while the images illustrated by the children reflect their awareness about the air quality around them, thanks to a 2008 USA Today multi-part, multi-media series on air quality around school buildings, findings are now coming out that highlight how those industrial pollutants endanger schoolchildren.

Child's drawing of air pollutionChild's drawing of pollution and clean airChild's drawing of pollution and clean airChild's drawing of air pollution

  The premise of the 2008 articles:

USA Today used an EPA model to track the path of industrial pollution and mapped the location of almost 128,000 schools to determine the levels of toxic chemicals outside. The potential problems that emerged were widespread, insidious and largely unaddressed.

Among many shocking, frightening pieces of information gathered and made available during the series was a list of schools, by state, and a ranking related to the air quality around them each one. You can see Ohio’s schools here.

The exposé convinced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study air quality around several schools in numerous states. Its program was named the School Air Toxics Monitoring Initiative.

This week, USA Today reported on what the results of that initiative reveal:

The federal government’s first attempt to assess the dangers from air pollution around schools is nearing completion, and the findings underscore the need for more extensive air monitoring, especially in pollution hot spots, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency says.

Sadly, Ohio is home to some of those hot spots. Thanks to Bowling Green State University’s The Black Swamp Journal, an online blog that tracks environmental news in the northwest section of the state, you can read detailed information about the Ohio sites in “Air Quality Testing in Ohio Schools Continues.”

Why does any of this matter, particular at a time when the authority of the EPA continues to be undeservedly under attack? From The Black Swamp Journal:

All of the schools in Ohio tested by the U.S. EPA ranked in the 1st or 2nd percentile for worst air, except for the Ohio Valley Educational Service Center, which was not part of the series.

Gary Silverman, director of the environmental health program at Bowling Green State University, said children are more susceptible to chemicals.

“Chemicals tend to affect children more, for two reasons, one is that their metabolism is greater compared to their body weight, so they are getting a higher percentage ingested or inhaled,” he said. “Second, if it is really young children, their immune systems aren’t mature yet.”

And, while the USA Today article from this week states that dangerous levels of pollution have not been found via the monitoring,

…the tests showed concentrations of toxic chemicals higher than what the government typically considers to be safe for long-term exposure….

Among the most troubling results:

Samples taken outside three schools in Ohio and West Virginia showed elevated levels of manganese, a neurotoxin that can cause mental and emotional problems. At East Elementary School in East Liverpool, Ohio, samples collected in 2009 showed average levels well above what the EPA considers safe for long-term exposure. [emphasis added]

Even worse, at least one recent study concludes that pollution can be linked not only to poor health but to poor academic performance:

Air pollution from industrial sources near Michigan public schools jeopardizes children’s health and academic success, according to a new study from University of Michigan researchers.

The researchers found that schools located in areas with the state’s highest industrial air pollution levels had the lowest attendance rates — an indicator of poor health — as well as the highest proportions of students who failed to meet state educational testing standards.

Not to my surprise, the findings indicate that minority students are disproportionately affected. Read the entire article to learn more about the study’s findings and policy recommendations – because yes, there are things we can do to improve the situation.

Please consider joining the Moms Clean Air Force. Help fight for clean air for our kids. Every voice counts and is needed.  If you haven’t already done so, you have through July 5th to email the EPA and show your support for the new Mercury and Air Toxics rule.  Thank you.

TOPICS: Activism, Asthma, Pollution