|By Bob Weaver|
A USA TODAY report issued this week shows potentially dangerous levels of air pollution at 27 schools in West Virginia.
While the pollution is a community problem, USA Today focused on the nation's schools.
The potential problems that emerged are widespread, insidious and generally ignored by the public and government agencies.
USA TODAY used the government's own measures and statistics to development their pollution model.
In West Virginia, the severe areas of pollution were around Parkersburg, Vienna, Williamstown, Huntington, Follansbee and nearby Marietta, Ohio.
The 27 schools in West Virginia had air quality issues more severe than an elementary school in Ohio that state officials shut down because of poor air quality.
Thirteen schools in the Marietta area ranked in the first percentile when it came to exposure to toxins and pollutants in the air, and 21 of the 38 schools in Wood County are in the 1st percentile.
The first percentile has the highest amount of toxins and pollutants.
"The American Lung Association's position is - people have a right to know what pollutants are in the air, and what the health affects might be," said Kevin Stewart, director for environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic area.
Using the government's most up-to-date model for tracking toxic chemicals, USA TODAY spent eight months examining the impact of industrial pollution on the air outside schools across the nation.
The model is a computer simulation that predicts the path of toxic chemicals released by thousands of companies.
Federal officials are promising to do their own monitoring of school air quality, following the USA TODAY report.
In some school districts, emissions from the smokestacks of refineries or chemical plants threatened students of every age.
Outside those schools, reports from polluters themselves often indicated a dozen different chemicals in the air. All are considered toxic by the government, though few have been tested for their specific effects on children.
Scientists have long known that kids are particularly susceptible to the dangers. They breathe more air in proportion to their weight than adults do, and their bodies are still developing.
The U.S. EPA, which has a special office charged with protecting children's health, has invested millions of taxpayer dollars in pollution models.
USA TODAY found the agency has all but ignored examining whether the air is unsafe at the very locations where kids are required to gather.
Philip Landrigan, a physician who heads a unit at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York focused on children's health, said "The mere fact that kids are being exposed ought to be enough to force people to pay attention. The problem here is, by and large, there's no cop on the beat. Nobody's paying attention."
FIND YOUR SCHOOL: School air with highest chemical levels
REGIONAL POLLUTION LEVELS (One Percent Worst Reading):
- RITCHIE COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL - 5th Percentile
- WIRT COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL - 6th Percentile
- CALHOUN-GILMER CAREER CENTER/PLEASANT HILL ELEMENTARY - 13th Percentile: Indicating a relatively high level of polluted air, about 88% overall toxicity for manganese and manganese compounds with about 10% overall toxicity related to sulfuric acid. The pollution mostly linked to plants in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
- GILMER COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL - 52nd Percentile
- ROANE COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL - 61st Percentile
- CALHOUN COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL - 73rd Percentile
- ARNOLDSBURG ELEMENTARY - 74th Percentile
- CLAY/BRAXTON COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL - 75th Percentile