Few things can scare Americans into paying attention to the environment like risks to children’s health. USA Today published the results of an interesting eight-month-long investigation this week.
In “The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America’s Schools,” the newspaper used the government’s model for tracking cancerous and toxic chemicals in the air to map 128,000 schools cross the country (the computer model simulates the path of chemicals using data released by thousands of companies). Anyone can go on the site, enter the name of school, a town, or a state and obtain a list of the airborne toxic chemicals surrounding the school. The index also identifies which local factories are causing the pollution.
So how do schools in NYC stack up?
According to USA today, the most polluted school in NYC is located near
the former Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island. The school, Arthur
Kill Correctional Facility, is actually located in a prison. The air surrounding Arthur Kills is more polluted than that of 98
percent of American schools (around 2,000 schools are worse). But most
of the chemicals don’t come from the capped landfill (perhaps that’s
because the EPA was only measuring industry-based pollution), but from
refineries and plants in nearby Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The main
pollutant: sulfuric acid.
In the rest of the city, schools weren’t as bad. The High School for
Civil Rights, in East New York ranked worse than 75 percent of the nation’s schools. Some of
the most dangerous schools in the country are actually located in
upstate New York. In economically-depressed Rochester, where straggling
industry is the town’s lifeline, three high schools that ranked among
the 35 most polluted schools in the nation are located near an Eastman
Since the investigation, parents have been up in arms, saying they’re going to trek to
their kids’ schools and test the air pollution themselves.
California Senator Barbara Boxer has vowed to raise the issue in the
confirmation hearings for President-Elect Barack Obama’s EPA choice. Parents were so unsettled that USA Today set up a tip line to advise
them about what to do if they find out their kids school is toxic. The
answer: not too much. Many families live close to their kid’s schools
anyway — whatever they’re inhaling at school they are likely inhaling
at home too.