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Air Outside of Schools Nationwide May Contain Toxic Chemicals

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Toxic chemicals pollute the air outside of hundreds of thousands of schools around the nation, threatening the health of the students at those locations, according to an analysis by USA TODAY.

outside air samples showed high levels of chemicals coming from the plastics plant across the street. The Ohio EPA found that the risk of getting cancer there was 50 times higher than what is considered acceptable by the state.

industrial pollution on the air outside schools across the U.S., they found that 435 other schools appear to have even worse air quality than Hitchens. The model USA TODAY used is a computer simulation that predicts the path of toxic chemicals released by companies. The Environmental Protection Agency has never undertaken that task.

manganese, a metal that can cause mental and emotional problems after long exposures, nickel, which can harm lungs and cause cancer, and other toxic gases and metals.

harmful to adults, the effect on children is not as clear. Children are more susceptible to the dangers of chemicals in the air because they breathe more air in proportion to their weight than adults do, and their bodies are still developing. Most children spend years at school, but the long-term effects of the chemicals are still unknown.

cancer several years after graduating. Seventeen have reached legal settlements with petrochemical plants located less than one mile from the school. The plants released butadiene for decades, sometimes so much that it formed sweet-smelling clouds over the roads near the school.

pollution models that could help identify schools in danger of high levels of toxic chemicals, but the Agency has not used the models to look for these “toxic hot spots.”

Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators, estimates how toxic chemicals are dispersed and in what quantities. USA TODAY plotted the location of schools to rank them based on the likelihood of chemicals in the air outside. USA TODAY noted that some schools and/or companies may have moved or closed, and some may have opened, since the EPA collected the data.

safety standards for adults in the workplace, there are no such regulations for schools, said Ramona Trovato, the former director of the EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection.

butadiene more than four times higher than the state’s standards. In 1999 another investigation was initiated by the Commission on Environmental Quality.

Workers monitoring the air reported dizziness, nausea, and “facial numbness.” A third report in 2003 found butadiene levels up to 120 times higher than the state’s standards. Once the state prompted the plants to upgrade their equipment, the levels of butadiene dropped sharply. However, the Commission never spoke with school officials about the results.