Air Toxics at School: About the Project

PERI's Air Toxics at School estimates the comparative individual chronic health risk from air pollution at each K-12 and higher education institution in the United States. The air pollution analyzed comes from large fixed sources, such as factories, petroleum depots, mines, and toxic storage and disposal facilities (not from mobile sources, agriculture, fracking, or other sources). The project uses data from EPA's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) modeled by the US EPA Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI). PERI’s analysis is informed by previous projects as described below.

USA Today’s Smokestack Effect and U.S. EPA’s response

In December 2008, USA Today began a months-long special report entitled “The Smokestack Effect -- Toxic Air and America's Schools” (Blake Morrison and Brad Heath) which drew public attention to the problem of toxic air pollution at schools. The report won several journalism awards, including the 2009 John B. Oakes Award, the 2009 Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment, and the 2009 Philip Meyer Journalism Award. The USA Today analysis used National Center for Education Statistics schools data linked to 2005 RSEI data (with assistance from PERI researchers). USA Today also conducted air monitoring at a sample of schools. The Smokestack Effect provided a searchable Web interface. USA Today continued to present the 2005 estimates of school-site exposure on its website until c. 2017.

The USA Today analysis generated many public inquiries to U.S. EPA and state environmental agencies. In 2009, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson initiated an air-monitoring project at 63 schools. Some data-quality problems with TRI data, school data, and monitoring equipment were identified, but no systematic report on school exposure was issued, nor did the effort lead to any significant regulatory or policy change.

Using information from Air Toxics at School

PERI's Air Toxics at School lists the facilities, their parent companies, and the chemicals that make the largest estimated contribution to chronic health risk from air pollution at each school. The goals are to facilitate public access to public information and to engender discussion among parents and students, staff and teachers, school administration, regulators, companies, and the broader public.

Each facility lists public contact information in its linked TRI reports, and parent companies can be contacted as well. U.S. EPA Regional Offices and state or local environmental agencies can provide regulatory information, facilitate dialog, and increase monitoring and enforcement. Environmental reporters in local media can advance dialog with polluters and regulators. We hope that the public uses this tool to inform and empower itself.

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