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Gina Solomon’s Blog

Health Risks at Schools

Gina Solomon

Posted December 8, 2008

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Last summer I stood in a school yard next to the huge cement kiln in the town of Oro Grande, California. It was hard not to be impressed. The school was new, and the soccer field was perfectly manicured. The playground had new play structures -- all courtesy of the cement company. Looming over the town was a dusty behemoth that was a source of annoyance to the townspeople because of the alkaline cement dust that ate the finish off their cars.

What they didn't know is that cement kilns also release significant quantities of dangerous heavy metals, such as mercury and chromium. In fact, we found contamination near this facility, and at other sites as well.

A new analysis by USA Today specifically mentions Oro Grande as a school at risk. But it's certainly not unique. The analysis identified over 400 schools in 170 cities that have potentially dangerous air quality due to nearby toxic emissions.

This is awful news for parents and children in all of those places, but it also reveals several deeper problems:

First, why isn't the EPA doing analyses like this, instead of leaving it to NGOs and reporters?

Second, why are the government regulators quoted in the USA Today story so reluctant to take action? These are children who need protection, after all!

Third, what will we do when the data disappear?

Yes, disappear.

The modeling software that USA Today used for their analysis relies on data from the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). Last year, the Bush Administration made sweeping changes to the TRI which will dramatically decrease the amount of information that polluters need to report. So if someone repeats the analysis next year, the picture may look a lot rosier - even though it's not.

Last week, we released a report called "Deepest Cuts: Repairing Health Monitoring Programs Slashed by the Bush Administration". Check out the report here. The report shows a pervasive and systematic unraveling of the tracking and monitoring programs that keep tabs on the safety of our air, water, food, and health. This is really a priority job for the new administration.

Children and parents that I met in Oro Grande, and across the country want their communities to be swept clean, not swept under the rug.

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Adrian MartinezDec 8 2008 04:08 PM

Is the new curriculum for schools Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Wretched Air? Gina’s blog is absolutely correct in noting that we need to continue monitoring. In Southern California, several groups have been asking for more extensive monitoring of the impacts of high levels of pollution from freeways located near schools, but we have met resistance. As the Obama administration undertakes a massive amount of building in the upcoming years, we need to make sure our children are protected from harmful pollution. The USA Today article reinforces this point.

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