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EPA monitoring of ‘widespread’ chemical to continue

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is concerned about a pollutant found at many schools during a recent two-month study of air quality.

Acrolein, a pollutant deemed “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, Ohio; Whitwell Elementary in Ironton, Ohio; and Life Skills of Trumbull County in Warren, Ohio.

In large concentrations, the chemical causes irritation to the eyes, nose and throat.

Most people have experienced this irritation through contact with smoke from a fire.

Children and adults with asthma or allergies are more sensitive to acrolein, the EPA states.

Gary Silverman, director of Environmental Health at Bowling Green State University, said he was not familiar with acrolein but that any chemical has a potential to be dangerous.

“You can’t go chemical by chemical and say ‘is this bad for children?’” he said. “Because the answer is yeah. Any chemical. It’s all concentration driven.”

Chemicals generally can affect children in lower amounts than adults because of children’s high metabolisms and underdeveloped immune systems, he said.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a part of the U.S. Department of Health, states that in a high enough quantity acrolein can slow breathing rates, damage the lining of the lungs and cause death.

The chemical generally takes the form of a vapor that is breathed in, but it can also be a liquid.

The agency lists cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust, industries and vapors from overcooked grease as the main sources of acrolein.

The pollutant is one of the most difficult to analyze through air analysis. Air monitoring detects the chemical but not an accurate amount of concentration in the area, according to the EPA.

“It was originally being studied but as we were taking the samples we realized that you would take two samples at the same time and you would get vastly different concentrations, “ said Jaime Wagner, environmental scientist with the EPA.

She said the problem was discovered when scientists got radically different readings from two monitors in one location.

“They were having a lot of problems accurately measuring it. That’s because acrolein is a kind of pollutant that is very reactive,” she said. Acrolein bonds with other chemicals easily, forming new compounds. It is also created from chemical compounds, even within the canisters collecting air samples.

In short-term laboratory studies, the pollutant also produced mixed results. The EPA began by testing the type of canister used to collect air samples.

“Basically, it showed that the cleaning methods were causing problems with acrolein,” she said. “Also depending on how long the canisters were held before they were analyzed, that was also causing problems.”

If heat is not used to clean the canisters, for example, the results tended to be somewhat higher, a EPA report stated.
Air quality labs tested samples containing known levels of the chemical and still produced varied results.

The EPA is currently evaluating new technologies for use in acrolein monitoring, a report stated.

“So the basic situation is that we do not have currently a good method to be able to accurately measure acrolein in the air, unfortunately,” Wagner said. “We are still working on that. It is something that we discuss a lot. It is a big deal and it is definitely something we are studying.”

Despite a lack of accuracy in monitoring, methods have been taken since 1990 to reduce acrolein emissions through regulations. This includes setting standards for highway diesel vehicles, creating anti-idling programs for cars and changing out wood-heating stoves.

79 thoughts on “EPA monitoring of ‘widespread’ chemical to continue

  1.    Air quality testing at Ohio schools continues | The Black Swamp Journal Says:

    […] 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. […]

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