Study: Air quality in county among worst

Published 10:28 am Thursday, April 2, 2009

IRONTON — While the Environmental Protection Agency claims the selection of Whitwell Elementary School for air quality testing was random, a closer look indicates the outside air surrounding the school could be some of the unhealthiest in all of Lawrence County.

A 2008 private, snapshot study of nearly 128,000 public and private schools throughout the U.S. placed Whitwell in the second percentile of schools with the likelihood of unhealthy air outside of the building.

The study, sponsored and conducted by the University of Maryland, John Hopkins University and a national publication, showed only 1,022 schools nationwide potentially having worse air than Whitwell.

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No other school in Ironton placed worse than Whitwell in the study.

Ironton School Superintendent Dean Nance said previously that he welcomes any tests that could improve the health of Ironton students.

“I’m very glad that (the EPA) is testing outside air qualities around our schools. Anytime we can have access to a free test like this can only benefit the safety of our children,” Nance said.

However, Whitwell’s position was nearly 550 places higher than Dawson-Bryant High and Middle schools which have the dubious distinction of being listed in the first or worst percentile with only 433 schools nationwide having worse air.

While being the only Lawrence County school to be listed in the first percentile, Dawson-Bryant was not one of the schools selected Tuesday by the EPA to have air-monitoring equipment installed.

Whitwell was one of only seven schools in the state selected for testing and was part of a longer list of 62 priority schools in 22 states where the EPA has identified potential health concerns from toxic air pollutants. Ohio, along with Texas, had the most schools on the list.

Schools in Warren, Marietta, East Liverpool and Wauseon were also selected. Schools were chosen because of their proximity to industrial facilities or other sources of pollution.

The study showed the probability of high levels of manganese and manganese compounds in the air surrounding Dawson-Bryant based on its proximity to potential polluters. Manganese poisoning has been linked to impaired motor skills and cognitive disorders.

AK Steel and Kentucky Electric Steel in Ashland, Ky. along with Swva, Inc. and Huntington Alloys in Huntington, W. Va. were named in the report as the principal sources of the emissions.

Dawson-Bryant Superintendent Dennis DeCamp said that while he took notice of the study’s results when published, the district would not at this time monitor air quality on their own.

“We haven’t had any discussions at this point,” DeCamp explained.

Erin Strouse with the Ohio EPA said air monitoring currently goes on in several different locations within Ironton and the testing at Whitwell will sample for many of the pollutants already being collected.

Strouse said air monitoring equipment is already in place at the Ironton Health Department, the Ohio Department of Transportation garage and at a location on SR 141.

DeCamp said that regardless of where the testing takes place it comes down to common sense.

“You can’t move the school. You can only monitor the sources.”

The schoolyard testing — scheduled to begin mid-April — will also sample for gases such as benzene and particulates such as hexavalent chromium, both of which are carcinogens that can lead to lung cancer, leukemia and Hodgkin lymphoma.

Testing should take about 60 days to complete and is for outdoor air around the school only.

Monitors will be placed outside of Whitwell for 60 days to provide a sample of toxins in the outdoor air. The monitors will then sample air quality on 10 different days during that time with the data analyzed by the EPA.

Once the air toxics data collected from Whitwell are quality-assured, the EPA will then examine the results to estimate how exposure to the outdoor air around the South 5th Street school might affect the student’s health over the long-term.

The EPA will cease monitoring at Whitwell if the results show good air quality. But if high levels of contaminants are detected, the agency will take steps to reduce the pollution.

Testing at Whitwell does not include indoor air quality monitoring, as no system currently exists for measuring indoor air pollutants.