Air at dozens of American schools potentially toxic
For five days this fall, USA TODAY teamed with scientists from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland to analyze 40 toxic chemicals in the air near America’s schools. Although the government checks the quantity of 6 smog-producing chemicals in the air, many high-risk area are not monitored, and only 3% of America’s schools are within a mile of a monitor. Since even small amounts of toxins can lead to physical dangers for children, the news team was anxious to call attention to the potential problem.
Using a government-created computer model that suggests where industrial pollutants may collect, USA TODAY chose 95 schools they believed were at risk. Their results suggest that two-thirds of these schools need follow-up studies.
The EPA determines that air is safe if the increased risk of cancer from a chemical is less than 1 in a million cases. But at 64 of the monitored schools, the levels were at least 10 times that amount, a level where the EPA considers working with local industry to lower their emissions. In three schools, benzene (linked to leukemia) levels were 100 times the EPA standard, or likely to increased cancer rates by 1 in 10,000 people.
Children breathe more air per pound than adults do, and process chemicals differently. Therefore, it is possible that pollutants could permanently alter their cells, leading to cancer later in life. Philip Landrigan, one of the nation’s foremost experts on pediatric medicine and a physician at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, says, “Those mutations, once they take place, they’re hard-wired…they certainly put the child at greater risk of cancer, and that risk is life-long.”
Chemicals were found in both affluent and underprivileged schools, coast to coast. Here is a list of the worst schools, as well as a listing of the chemical found and their risks.
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