EPA to study air around Whitwell Tuesday

Published 10:15 am Monday, July 27, 2009

IRONTON — Air monitoring equipment will be installed on the grounds of Whitwell Elementary Tuesday as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency begins its schoolyard testing for hazardous gases.

Announced in late March, the testing will 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.

Manganese and manganese compounds will also be sampled. Manganese poisoning has been linked to impaired motor skills and cognitive disorders.

Testing was initially scheduled to start in April, but was delayed three months, according to Erin Strouse with the Ohio EPA.

“Equipment required for the sampling needed to be ordered and the U.S. EPA wanted to have the same testing schedule with the monitoring being conducted in Kentucky,” Strouse said.

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

Three schools in neighboring Ashland, Ky. were also named. Charles Russell Elementary, Crabbe School and Hatcher School along with Cabell County Career Technology Center in Huntington, W. Va. will also have outdoor air sampled.

Strouse said testing is scheduled for July 30 and will wrap-up on Sept. 22. The Portsmouth Local Air Authority will be overseeing the Whitwell sampling.

Monitors will be placed at ground level outside of Whitwell 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 U.S. EPA.

The equipment will be secured in a locked facility.

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

Studies show school children are especially susceptible to toxic chemicals; they breathe more air in proportion to their weight than do adults while their bodies are still developing. Studies have shown that long exposures to some chemicals increase the likelihood of asthma, learning disabilities or can lead to cancer years later.

The U.S. 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.

AK Steel and Kentucky Electric Steel in Ashland, Ky. along with Swva, Inc. and Huntington Alloys in Huntington, W. Va. were named in a 2008 University of Maryland, John Hopkins University report as the principal sources of the emissions

The results from each testing area will be made public when finalized.

Strouse said results from schoolyard tests in Tennessee were completed in “around two weeks.”

Equipment to measure wind speed and direction during the monitoring will also be installed.

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

A wide range of factors unique to a specific building affects indoor air quality.

Those include types of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems along with building design and structure.