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PA DEP Finds Air Quality Around Schools to be Safe

Findings Refute USA Today Report

HARRISBURG, Pa., Feb. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Department of Environmental Protection today reported it found no unsafe levels of air pollutants or metals after extensively examining air quality samples taken recently near four Pennsylvania schools.

Environmental Protection acting Secretary John Hanger said that the results of DEP's in-depth monitoring refute reports by USA Today in December 2008 that relied only on a "snapshot" measurement approach at three of the schools. DEP sampled the air at a fourth school at the request of district officials.

"The quality of the air Pennsylvania's children breathe is a top concern," Hanger said. "When USA Today suggested there was a potential problem, we immediately set out to verify their findings, but have been unable to do so. We simply have not found the levels of pollutants the newspaper's testing seemed to indicate.

"While that's the case, we plan to continue monitoring at certain schools for a limited period so we can further substantiate our findings and ensure the safety of these communities and their citizens."

Using federally accepted scientific protocols, DEP placed air quality monitors directly at the school buildings and tested samples collected over several weeks.

In contrast, USA Today sampled only once over several days and did not indicate the locations of their monitors and their distance from the schools. Some monitors were placed at the homes of volunteers and others at the offices of affiliated newspapers near the schools, the newspaper said.

"Our testing found the total excess lifetime cancer risk from exposure to pollutants at these schools is within the acceptable range identified by the Environmental Protection Agency," Hanger said. "Any health risk to a child, of course, is difficult for a parent to accept, which is why we are so committed to reducing air pollution not only in the area around these schools, but everywhere across the commonwealth."

The schools DEP monitored and the primary pollutants identified by USA Today's snapshot testing at each respective location are:

  • Midland Elementary/Middle School, Beaver County; chromium and manganese
  • Wayne Middle School, Erie County; benzene and naphthalene
  • Stony Brook Elementary School, York County; benzene and chromium.
  • Phoenixville Area Kindergarten Center, Chester County. Although USA Today did not conduct snapshot testing there, the newspaper used a comparative risk model to label the area around the school as a high-pollution zone, identifying chromium and nickel as the pollutants of concern.

The Allegheny County Health Department took air samples at Highlands High School in Natrona Heights, where USA Today identified chromium as a pollutant of concern. The county is also collecting samples at the Montessori Children's School in Bridgeville and the Sto-Rox schools in McKees Rocks.

At each school where DEP monitored the air quality, the department calculated the excess lifetime cancer risk, or the risk above the general overall cancer risk of four in 10, from exposure to the pollutants of concern. These ranged from 4 in 100,000 at Stony Brook Elementary School to 5 in one million at Phoenixville Area Kindergarten Center.

The excess lifetime cancer risk is comparable to the state background level of 5.7 in 100,000, as determined by air toxics monitoring routinely conducted by the department. The EPA generally considers an excess lifetime cancer risk above one in 10,000 to be unacceptable.

DEP plans to continue monitoring at Midland for several months and will also conduct sampling at six other schools in areas with pollutants of concern identified by USA Today. Detailed reports on DEP's sampling studies can be found at the following links:

    Teresa Candori

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
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