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Environmental Health and Safety Blog | EHSWire

EPA: Air Monitoring at Schools…the Results are IN

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jun 28, 2010 1:12:47 AM

Lee Bishop, CIH

Have you ever wondered if the air your kids are breathing at their school is safe?  Well, so has the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA).

The US EPA has completed sampling outside air at 63 elementary, middle, and high schools in 22 states.  Even better yet, they have completed the analytical work associated with these samples and have uploaded more than 22,500 results to the EPA website.

The EPA is now analyzing the sampling results to see if there may be long-term health consequences for young people attending these schools.  Reports of the analysis have been released for two schools:  Pittsboro Elementary School in Pittsboro, Ind. and Minnesota International Middle Charter School in Minneapolis.  At both schools, levels of the high-profile pollutants monitored were below levels of both short-term and long-term concern.  EPA previously released analyses for two schools in Tennessee.  These results will also be used for air contaminant modeling programs.

The samples were analyzed for 6 distinct pollutant groups:

  1. Carbonyls such as acetaldehyde,

  2. Diisocyanates such as methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, 2,4-toluene diisocyanate, and 1,6-hexamethylene diisocyanate,

  3. Metals such as arsenic, cobalt, lead, manganese, and nickel,

  4. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)s such as benzo(a)pyrene, and naphthalene,

  5. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as acrolein, benzene, and 1,3-butadiene, and

  6. Other specific pollutants such as 4,4’-methylenedianiline, and hexavalent chromium (Chromium VI).

While some of these materials may be found in nature, they are concentrated in processed materials and uses related to dyes, plastics, tobacco, transportation, pesticides, and steel / energy production activities.  Many of the emissions related to these products can become concentrated in some areas.  Where schools existed in such areas, outside air was tested.

Particulates were collected by using the EPA’s PM10 method (for dust less than 10 um [microns] in diameter that can enter and be impacted in the lungs), and by the TSP method for particulate matter greater than 10 um in diameter and can be a human health hazard due to dermal contact and subsequent ingestion, or by drinking water contaminated with these materials.

Since these are OUTDOOR air samples – the results tell us a lot about the air quality not just at the schools, but in the communities around these schools.  Check out these data for schools in your community at

I’ve looked at the results for schools in New Jersey, and even though they are schools close to or in urban areas, the levels measured were well below the Short Term Screening Limits established by the EPA.  While the results are reassuring, they do reinforce that we do live in a chemical world!  I wonder what the air quality is like INSIDE my house. What do you think?

Topics: indoor air quality, EPA, Exposure, environmental air monitoring, Respiratory

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