For an NBC TV news presentation titled “Breathing cleaner air helps people live longer” click here
|By Spencer Tirey for USA TODAY|
A bus waits at Bayyari Elementary School in Springdale, Ark., for children to get out
Plan For Coke Plant Puts Focus On Laws’ Limits
PLAN FOR COKE PLANT PUTS FOCUS ON LAWS’ LIMITS
By Dennis Cauchon, USA TODAY
MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — The students at Amanda Elementary School here already breathe what appears to be some of the most polluted air in the nation.
Now, a plant that makes coke — the coal-based fuel that melts iron ore for steel mills — is scheduled to be built behind the school, just past the ball fields.
“I can’t believe this is possible,” says Jena Manley, a college junior who attended the school and lives nearby. “How much pollution are we supposed to take?”
Middletown, a steel town of 51,000, is struggling to survive. The new $340 million coke plant, run by SunCoke Energy, will bring 75 jobs and help secure the future of a steel mill that has operated here for 108 years.
The coke plant, fought by local activists since it was announced in March, illustrates how the proximity of schools to factories seldom is considered when authorities grant operating permits for new or expanding industrial plants.The locations of schools and polluters are considered local zoning decisions.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency didn’t consider the plant’s potential neighbors — the school is on one side, a retirement home on another — because the federal law that limits air pollution doesn’t require state agencies to do that.
The federal rules are “abysmal,” says John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “We just don’t take into account the different susceptibility of children to pollution, or the proximity of pollution sources to places children frequent.”
Amanda Elementary sits in an area where a pollution model, developed by the U.S. EPA, indicated the potential exposure to carcinogens appeared to be higher than at all but a few other schools in the country.
SunCoke has promised to build the most environmentally friendly coke plant possible……………….Others are generally more skeptical.
“In terms of siting new industrial facilities near schools and neighborhoods where children are at risk……………………….. why would you do that?”
This story is part of series called,
The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America’s Schools
You may learn more about these dangers to our children here:
Also, please be sure to check out the map with the link that follows.
Wisconsin has no school siting laws !
Heavy Industry can be place next door to your child’s school, unless you take action to stop this ! http://www.childproofing.org/images/states_w_o_siting_laws.jpg
The newspaper identified 435 schools in locations where the air outside appeared more dangerous than at an Ohio elementary school that was shut down three years ago after officials found the air there saturated with carcinogens 50 times higher than what the state considers acceptable.
At least 43 of the 435 schools — or about 10% — opened in the past decade, USA TODAY found.
Some of those 43 schools are in new buildings. Others — primarily charter and nursery schools — opened in existing schoolhouses. Very few are in places where officials are required by state law to consider the potential hazards before the schools opened.
To identify schools where dangers appeared to be the greatest, USA TODAY used an EPA computer model created to trace the potential path of toxic chemicals released by industries. USA TODAY used it to compare the nation’s 127,800 public, private and parochial schools with one another, based on the chemicals likely to be in the air outside.
The model’s most recent version uses emissions reports that 20,000 industrial facilities filed with the agency in 2005. That means it reflects a snapshot in time: Some of the schools or companies may have closed since the government collected the data; others may have opened.
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Children are especially susceptible to toxic chemicals, which can cause respiratory illnesses, cancer or other diseases if exposures last for extended periods. The health effects might not be evident for years, even decades.
Environmental regulations typically require builders to examine the effect that a structure might have on the surrounding ecosystem. But in most states, USA TODAY found, neither school officials nor factory owners are required to consider their proximity to one another before construction begins.
Close proximity to potential hazards is common.
Based on data USA TODAY supplied to the EPA, about half of the nation’s schools are in what the government calls ” vulnerable zones” — areas close enough to industrial sites that they could be affected by a chemical accident. Many are within blocks of companies that store or release toxic chemicals.
As President-elect Barack Obama pledges to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to construct and renovate schools, the lack of regulations about where schools can be built — and whether exposure to toxic chemicals should be considered — makes the issue critically important, activists say.
Obama wants to ensure schools are environmentally friendly, a process that some contend begins with where the school is located.
“What we’re seeing all across the country is these schools being built on or near toxic chemicals because the land is cheap,” says Lois Gibbs, executive director of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, an advocacy group that focuses on children and schools. “But we have a moral responsibility to children.”
Thirty years ago, Gibbs helped launch an investigation that found tons of toxic waste under her kids’ 99th Street School in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, N.Y.
She says the dangers to children from toxic chemicals remain pronounced — especially at locations where kids are required to gather. Gibbs says her group has tracked about 8,000 letters sent to members of Congress in the wake of USA TODAY’s investigation. The letters, sent through the group’s website, express concern about the location of schools and potentially dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in the air.
“When our kids get on a bicycle, we put a helmet on them,” Gibbs says. “And here, our federal and state governments are putting our children at risk. There is someone forcing me to send my child to school.”
No laws in 23 states
Many states have no laws that govern where schools can be built. A 2006 study, funded by an EPA grant and done by Rhode Island Legal Services, found that 23 states put no limits on building schools near environmental hazards. In fact, no regulations in those states compel school officials to consider such dangers when picking a spot to build.
Only a few states address the potential health risks from toxic chemicals in the air, the survey showed.
In most of those places — in big cities and factory towns from coast to coast — schools have co-existed with potential environmental hazards for decades. But some of the schools have opened recently, after the danger pollution poses to children was more thoroughly understood. Some are in areas that the government’s own data suggest may be toxic hot spots, USA TODAY found. Among them:
• Oro Grande, Calif., in the desert east of Los Angeles. There, the Mojave River Academy opened two years ago in a building within yards of a cement plant. Using the EPA model, a computer simulation based on 2005 data, USA TODAY found schoolchildren there could have been exposed to high levels of metals in the air.
• The crowded Chicago suburb of Cicero, Ill. There, the city’s school districts built a middle school and an alternative high school during the past decade.
The land where they put the schools is in an area where the EPA model showed students could have been exposed to elevated levels of manganese, a chemical that can cause neurological problems. The model indicated levels 20 times higher than what the EPA says is safe for prolonged exposure.
The steel foundry that government records show emitted most of the manganese closed this year. It was blocks from the schools.
“It’s hard to find space to build on,” says Donna Adamic, superintendent of Cicero’s elementary school district. “It’s not like we can go a couple miles away to look for a better location.”
• Coatesville, Pa., west of Philadelphia. There, Graystone Academy Charter School opened six years ago in offices leased from a nearby steel company. It’s an area where the model indicated elevated levels of manganese and chromium, a metal that can cause cancer in its most harmful form. The school was within a mile of three companies that told the government they stored or released toxic chemicals.
Schools usually make their decisions about where to build based on the price of land, activist Gibbs says.
Sometimes, Gibbs says, schools have no choice but to build in areas where the air could be dangerous. That’s because no other property is available. Often, school officials aren’t aware of the potential risk.
Land was a bargain
Bayyari Elementary School opened in 2004, in a new neighborhood of modest, one-story homes and duplexes. At the time, Springdale, a city of 67,000 in the northwest corner of the state, was growing so fast that it opened a new school every year.
The school district got a bargain on the land: It paid $500,000 for 21 acres, and the subdivision’s developer picked up the cost of bringing utilities to the school. That saved taxpayers millions of dollars, says Bradshaw, Springdale’s assistant superintendent.
Later, developer Fadil Bayyari, who acquired the Hidden Hills project from its original developer, gave the district a second lot nearby. In exchange, the district put his name on the new $6.8 million elementary school.
“I don’t think there was any thought with anybody at the school system or even in the neighborhood that we (were) going to put this school too close to an industrial park,” Bayyari says.
When developers first proposed building the subdivision that surrounds Bayyari in 2002, it drew immediate protests from neighbors. They worried that the planned neighborhood would encroach on their property and become a magnet for crime, traffic and other problems.
The only environmental concerns were about noise from a Danaher Tool Groupfactory and dust from the Beaver Lake Concrete plant near the subdivision.
“We tried to tell them the Danaher plant makes noise all night, but they said no,” says Fred Davis, a neighbor. “But that plant’s always made noise, and the cement plant has been here 15 years or so, and in the summer, you could see the dust cloud just hanging over the meadow where they built all those houses and the school.”
The city asked for tests, Bradshaw says. The school district’s tests examined how much dust was in the air, not what chemicals were in the air.
“The noise was no worse than crickets,” Bradshaw says, “and the dust wasn’t very high.”
Arkansas doesn’t require school districts to consider air pollution when they’re deciding where to build, says Doug Eaton, head of facilities for the state’s education department.
The EPA’s computer simulation indicated that the levels of chromium and nickel outside Bayyari appeared high enough to rank the school among the worst 2% nationally, though it was not among those that ranked worse than the shuttered Meredith Hitchens school. Chromium can take several forms, and the model does not indicate which could be in the air. Its most harmful form can cause cancer. Nickel also has been linked to cancer.
The model indicated that both came primarily from the Danaher plant, a boxy, one-story factory about a quarter-mile from the elementary school. (The cement plant did not report any emissions to the EPA and therefore played no role in the rankings produced by the model.)
The model also indicated that the air around Bayyari was more than 15 times worse than the air at a typical location in Springdale. That means kids who go there could live in less polluted areas.
A manager at Danaher, which makes hand tools sold under several names, referred questions to its headquarters in Washington. For many weeks, USA TODAY tried to reach a spokesman there. The spokesman did not respond to a dozen telephone calls, e-mails or faxes, or to a visit by a reporter Monday.
This fall, USA TODAY teamed with scientists from Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland to monitor the air outside Bayyari and 94 other schools nationwide.
At Bayyari, a reporter monitored for five days, using the same protocols employed by many universities and industries. A scientist who helped oversee USA TODAY’s efforts, Patrick Breysse of Johns Hopkins, cautioned that the newspaper’s monitoring represents a “snapshot” and should not be considered definitive.
Bayyari Elementary was among 64 schools where the levels of toxic chemicals were higher than what some states consider acceptable. Scientists such as Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician who leads a unit on children and the environment at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, say the risks to children might be 10 times greater than to adults because children breathe more air per pound and because their bodies are developing.
The tests at Bayyari detected chromium and nickel in the air, although they were at levels lower than what the model indicated. The monitoring could not identify the source of the chemicals. Longer-term monitoring would be needed to know what sort of risks kids there might face.
Mike Bates, head of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality‘s air division, says he doesn’t have “any significant concerns” about pollution in the area. Even so, he says, the state hasn’t monitored Springdale’s air to know for certain.
‘A little dusty’
California’s school siting laws are among the nation’s toughest. Schools there cannot be built if they’re within a quarter-mile of a facility that handles or releases hazardous substances, unless the school can show that those facilities do not endanger the students or staff.
But even in California, schools generally can open near potential hazards — as long as they move into buildings that already exist. That’s what happened two years ago in Oro Grande, a town 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
The Mojave River Academy, a charter school, moved into a building that also houses the local elementary school. It’s within sight of a cement plant that sent tens of thousands of pounds of hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, manganese and other toxic chemicals into the air each year, according to reports its operator, TXI Riverside Cement, filed with the EPA.
When the charter first opened, “it was a little dusty,” says the school’s director, Joseph Andreasen. He says he never considered whether the toxic chemicals in the dust might prove dangerous to his students.
Frank Sheets, a spokesman for TXI, says the old plant had been cited by the EPA for problems.
He says the company works hard to stay within its permit and its emissions created “no significant risk” in Oro Grande. This year, it opened a new kiln as part of a nearly $400 million upgrade; in a settlement with the EPA, it agreed to shut off seven old ones.
Next year, the EPA plans to issue guidelines to help schools avoid such potential environmental hazards. The agency’s advisory committee on children’s health had been asking for such guidelines since at least 2002, USA TODAY found.
Congress has ordered the agency to finish by June. Even that was controversial: When the law requiring the guidelines passed, some school boards said the EPA should stay out of education issues, even though its guidelines will be voluntary.
Gibbs of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice called the guidelines a good first step. But she says states must be more aggressive with laws of their own.
“We have laws against parents neglecting their children,” she says. “There’s no reason that we shouldn’t have laws to protect them against school boards that are erring.”