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Air quality testing at Ohio schools continues

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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is continuing to study the air quality near six Ohio schools following the results of a two-month air monitoring by the U.S. EPA at seven locations in the state.

The U.S. EPA found levels of concern at three Ohio schools with the results of three others still being analyzed. Air quality at the seventh school was deemed safe.

“It was part of an initiative to understand whether outdoor toxic pollution causes health concern in children,” said Phillippa Cannon, region five media contact for the U.S. EPA. She said the schools were selected using three factors: computer monitoring analysis, the results of a 2008 USA Today series and consultation with state and local air agencies. Sixty-three schools received monitoring across the nation.

The study, which took place in late 2009, monitored the air near schools for high levels of chemicals relating to area industries. The results were released in December 2010.

The study was spurred in part by the USA Today series, “The Smokestack Effect,” which used computer risk management programs and information from the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory to estimate toxicity at more than 127,000 schools across the nation. The report which won numerous journalism awards, ranked 5,123 schools in Ohio based on their air toxicity compared to other schools in the United States.

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.”

Any chemical, he said, could be dangerous in a large enough quantity. He said someone who ingests too much water, for example, could die.

The U.S. EPA’s study, however, was searching for known toxic chemicals.

The EPA detected high levels of manganese, a chemical known to cause nervous system issues, at three of the schools: Ohio Valley Educational Service Center and Warren Elementary in Marietta, Ohio, and East Elementary School in East Liverpool, Ohio.

In East Liverpool, S.H. Bell, a packaging company, was reportedly responsible for manganese emissions.

“The big thing there is that Ohio EPA had a major enforcement action against the company that took effect in November,” said Jaime Wagner, environmental scientist for the U.S. EPA.

The Ohio EPA ordered S.H. Bell to take actions to control dust, to stop handling manganese at a facility near East Elementary School and to enclose areas where materials containing manganese are processed.

“These changes were substantial and we expect that the emissions of particulate, which would also then include manganese, will be substantially reduced based on that enforcement action,” Wagner said.

East Elementary School closed in 2010 after decisions to consolidate the district, she said.

In Marietta, Eramet Marietta Inc., an ore processing company reportedly responsible for manganese emissions, is working with the Ohio EPA to reduce emissions by replacing emission control devices, work is expected to be completed in 2011, according to the U.S. EPA.

The Ohio EPA will continue to oversee the facilities in both cities, according to the U.S. EPA’s report.

The federal agency conducted additional testing two other schools: Life Skills of Trumbull County and the Academy of Arts and Humanities in Warren, Ohio because the original monitoring took place while “key sources of emissions were not operating.”

“After the monitoring was completed, they had found out from the state that the company of concern hadn’t been operating, so they redid the 60 days of sampling,” Wagner said. The testing has been completed but is still being analyzed, she said.

The results for the sixth school, Whitwell Elementary in Ironton, Ohio, were not released as of April 2011.

At the seventh school, Elm Street Elementary in Wauseon, Ohio, the U.S. EPA reported all chemicals in the area to be below “the levels of significant concern.” Though Elm Street Elementary was closed in the spring of 2010, due to consolidation of the Elementary and Middle schools in to one building, three schools still remain in the area.

The U.S. EPA tested for three chemicals: diisocyanates, benzene and acrolein based on the close
proximity to an industrial door manufacturing facility, two highways and a railroad line.

According to the report, high levels of diisocyanates cause respiratory issues; benzene affects bone marrow, causes anemia and leukemia; and acrolein causes irritation to the eyes, nose and throat.

The EPA will continue to study acrolein, a chemical released by vehicles and cigarettes, across the nation. Acrolein levels were not factored in to the U.S. EPA’s nationwide school monitoring results because it was determined that acrolein monitoring is not reliable. Current monitoring methods detect acrolein but not the amount of the chemical, according to the EPA. The chemical was detected at 40 of the 63 schools studied. For more information, click here.

The EPA found no detectable levels of diisocyanates while benzene levels were found to be below levels of concern.

“We knew there was going to be absolutely nothing to worry about,” said Marc Robinson, superintendent for Wauseon schools.

Robinson said the district demolished Elm Street Elementary during the summer of 2010. He said the demolition had nothing to do with the study and was done because a new building had been built for middle school and elementary students.

The USA Today series raised concerns about Elm Street Elementary’s air quality.

The series ranks Elm Street Elementary in the 1st percentile, with only 11 schools in the United Stated estimated to have “worse air.” The series listed diisocyanates as responsible for 99 percent of the toxicity.

“It created a huge amount of news and a huge scare amongst some people for absolutely no reason,” Robinson said. “The end results certainly point that out.”

Robinson said the piece was irresponsible because the methodology used was flawed. No actual air quality testing was done at Elm Street Elementary by USA Today, he said.

“I truly believe that it was done to create a news story on the backs of children and it just wasn’t appropriate,” he said.

The authors of the series stated in the explanation of their methodology that the series only estimated toxicity rather than proving it. The series used estimates from the EPA’s toxic release inventory as well as a risk-screening model which estimates concentrations using the height of smokestacks and the way “each chemical disperses in the air.” The nature of the estimates meant that there would be some limitations, such as underestimating or overstating toxicity, the authors state.

USA Today Rankings:
East Elementary School
Whitwell Elementary School
Life Skills of Trumbull County
Academy of Arts and Humanities
Warren Elementary School
Elm Street Elementary School

136 thoughts on “Air quality testing at Ohio schools continues

  1.    EPA monitoring of ‘widespread’ chemical to continue | The Black Swamp Journal Says:

    […] “widespread” by the EPA, was found at 40 of the 63 schools studied across the nation, including seven Ohio schools. Of the schools studied, acrolein was detected at three schools: Elm Street Elementary in Wauseon, […]

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