Pennsylvania DEP to Monitor Air Quality Near Schools Cited in USA TODAY Report

Initial Review of Newspaper’s Study Suggest Outdated Data, Improper Modeling Tool Used

HARRISBURG, Pa., Dec. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Department of Environmental Protection will work with school administrators and county-level agencies to measure air quality near eight schools across the state as it further evaluates the test results by the USA TODAY newspaper.

In a series of articles this week, the newspaper used data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2005 to analyze exposure to industrial pollution at 128,000 schools across the country. The stories cited five Pennsylvania schools where the newspaper’s test showed elevated levels of pollutants and identified 38 others that it calculated were located in high-pollution zones based on EPA data.

“The commonwealth is committed to ensuring that our communities–especially the areas where our children go to school–are safe and clean,” said acting DEP Secretary John Hanger. “Children are especially vulnerable to air borne pollution as they take in more air as a percentage of their body weight than adults. Because of this, DEP has worked diligently to improve air quality beyond federal limits to achieve greater success in protecting our citizens.

“And while air quality across Pennsylvania has improved significantly over the last two decades, we take this report by USA TODAY seriously. That’s why we’re moving quickly to test these areas to ensure our citizens are not exposed to unsafe levels of pollution.”

DEP had already begun testing the air quality around one of the schools mentioned, Midland Elementary-Middle School in Beaver County, before the stories were published. So far tests have not detected elevated levels of chromium as USA TODAY reported its testing had found. DEP began testing at Midland on Nov. 24 and will continue sampling for at least six months.

The department will also gather samples at Stonybrook Elementary School in York County; Wayne Middle School, Iroquois Junior-Senior High School and Ridgefield Elementary School in Erie County; St. Vitus School in Lawrence County; and Montessori Children’s School and Highlands High School in Allegheny County.

DEP is also working with the Allegheny County Health Department and Philadelphia Air Management Services to measure the air quality around other schools in those counties.

USA TODAY took “snapshot” air samples outside 95 schools, including six in Pennsylvania. The paper provided the results of its testing to DEP, which will analyze those results and conduct its own testing at the schools.

Hanger added that while DEP is committed to monitoring the levels through additional testing, its initial evaluation of the newspaper’s methodology found an instance where outdated Toxic Release Inventory data was used, consequently inflating the level of pollution estimated to be around two Philadelphia area schools.

Hanger also concurred with the EPA’s assessment that the modeling tool used by USA TODAY was inappropriate for this kind of analysis. The Risk Screening Environmental Indicators model that was used is designed for point sources and fails to take into account mobile sources that can greatly elevate health risks.

For more information, visit, keyword: Air Quality.

    CONTACT: Teresa Candori
    (717) 787-1323



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