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EPA set to monitor toxic air in schools

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

USA Today's March 31st story "EPA to monitor 62 schools' air," left me feeling angry and hopeful. Hopeful because the Obama administration is starting to make good on its promises to take public health and the environment very seriously.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plan to monitor air and air pollution outside of the 62 schools nationwide. The move comes as a response to USA Today's investigation that concluded that some schools appear to be loaded with toxic chemicals.

Using government data and computer simulations, USA Today discovered that over 400 schools had higher level of toxic air. Higher levels in fact, then an elementary school in Ohio closed because the levels of carcinogens found there exceeded the levels that state considers acceptable, by 50 times!

Schools are supposed to be safe, healthy environments where kids can learn and grow in. Growing is a crucial word here, since kids are especially prone to negative effects of chemicals while their bodies are still developing. So, why are schools exposing kids potentially dangerous levels of chemicals? And even more important, why is it that USA Today is doing the initial digging and data analysis, instead of the government?

This scenario, among many others, shows the impact on public health of eight years of inaction. And it reaffirms the important watchdog role played by the press. While I am hopeful about the new administration, we all know that with the newspapers closing or cutting their newsroom staff, journalists will have even less time to investigate and dig into the data on their own. In my 3 years working on EWG's press team, many great investigative journalists have left the environmental beat or their newspapers, and they haven't been replaced. And that is really bad news.

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