How is the air around your child's school?

A USA Today newspaper story featuring poor air quality around some American schools, including one near Cincinnati, was superficial, according to the Ohio EPA, which said the article was the result of a snapshot and not rigorous testing.

The story in Monday's newspaper featured the Meredith Hitchens Elementary School in the Cincinnati suburb of Addyston (see here). USA Today staffers Blake Morrison and Brad Heath reported that school district officials pulled all 369 students from the building three years ago after air sampling outside the building showed high levels of chemicals coming from a nearby plastics plant. According to the newspaper, state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials concluded the risk of developing cancer there was 50-times higher than what the state considers acceptable.

The newspaper quoted an Ohio EPA scientist as saying that air monitoring at the closed school shows levels of the most dangerous chemicals have declined significantly, but that levels remain "over our risk goals."

The article reported that air outside 435 other schools in the nation could be even worse and the story certainly should make parents who have children in schools near industrial areas be concerned enough to demand some facts.

"We know people are concerned," Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heather Lauer told The Gadfly Wednesday. "What we we're looking at [in Addyston] was not an immediate health risk. These are not levels we would expect to see immediate health effects. We're talking about long-term cancer risk over 30 years of exposure."

For at least some of its data, USA Today used testing results the state EPA collected several years ago at the Ohio school. The newspaper also conducted some of its own more recent tests and used a federal EPA air quality computer model in preparing its stories. Monday, while not refuting the newspaper's claims, the Ohio EPA issued a letter to Ohio school districts through the Ohio Department of Education claiming the newspaper's testing was not comprehensive and that the agency's testing is superior. Something to note, too, is that the air around neighborhood schools could be very similar to the air around the nearby homes where students live.

"To reach the conclusions in its story, USA Today used a computer model utilized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that simulates air emissions and their effects on air quality. In addition, the newspaper conducted 100 one-time air samples nationwide. This reflects a quick snapshot of air data and estimates of potential impacts on localized quality. We will be reviewing the data that USA Today utilized, and will use this information as a starting point to evaluate what additional inquiries and investigations may be necessary," according to the letter from state EPA Director Chris Korleski.

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