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Toxic Air and U.S. Schools
Detail: To determine what sort of toxic chemicals children breathe when they go to school, USA TODAY worked with the researchers and scientists at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and the University of Maryland in College Park to analyze exposure to industrial pollution at schools across the nation.

Information on about 127,800 public and private schools was collected from the National Center for Education Statistics and from more than two dozen state education agencies. The list does not include some recently opened buildings or schools whose locations could not be mapped.

Toxicity assessments for each school are based on emissions data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of its Toxics Release Inventory program, also known as TRI.

The researchers obtained data from an EPA model known as the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators, which scores chemicals based on their potential danger. The model also uses information about industrial facilities – such as the height of its smokestacks and the way each chemical disperses in the air – to estimate where concentrations of the chemicals they release will be highest. The model allows the EPA to assess pollution's impact on every square kilometer of the nation, and the agency uses that information to help identify potential problems spots. The University of Massachusetts researchers used those findings to produce lists of chemicals that contributed to the air toxicity at each of the nation's 127,800 schools in 2005, the most recent year for which the EPA has completed its model. With the help of the University of Massachusetts researchers and other experts, and after consulting with the EPA, USA TODAY used those records to create three measures of a school's exposure to industrial toxics:

• Overall toxicity: The primary measure of toxicity from industrial pollution outside a school.
• Exposure to cancer-causing chemicals: Similar to the overall toxicity measure, but includes only those chemicals known or thought to cause cancer.
• Exposure to other toxic chemicals: Shows the potential severity of exposure to chemicals that do not cause cancer.

Under the guidance of scientists from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland School of Public Health, USA TODAY employees and other affiliated newspapers and television stations monitored air quality near 95 public and private schools throughout the nation. The monitors were placed within about 100 yards of a school, though a few had to be placed slightly farther away. Scientists at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins analyzed each sample, and interpreted those results.

Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania had the highest numbers of worst ranked schools. But several more worst schools extended from the East Coast to the West, in 170 cities across 34 states. The 435 schools that ranked worst were not confined to industrial centers.

For a detailed report, related stories and discussions on “The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America's Schools” see
Date: December 21 2008