Further Pennsylvania DEP Testing Finds Air Quality Around Schools To Be Safe

May 28, 2009

HARRISBURG, Pa., May 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger today said air quality sampling by the state Department of Environmental Protection at schools in Berks and Lancaster counties did not detect unsafe levels of air pollutants and metals, contrary to a prediction reported by USA Today in December 2008.

DEP today released the results of extensive air quality monitoring at Reading-Muhlenberg Career & Technology Center (CTC) in Berks County and Locust Grove Mennonite School in Lancaster County. USA Today made predictions, using information compiled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the likely presence of toxins produced at nearby industries.

“Even though the newspaper did not actually do any sampling or detect the presence of high levels of toxins, we take very seriously any report of a potential problem,” Hanger said. “We wanted to determine whether their prediction was accurate, and as far as we can determine, it was not.”

In February, DEP reported that air quality was found to be safe around several schools where USA Today did “snapshot” sampling. As an added precaution, DEP also monitored air quality at several of the locations the newspaper did not monitor, but identified as potentially high pollution zones, and has found the air quality to be safe. Additionally, in March the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency directed air quality monitoring to begin at 62 schools nationwide, including six in Pennsylvania.

Using federally accepted scientific protocol, DEP located air quality monitors directly at the school buildings and tested samples collected over several weeks. USA Today did not do any monitoring at Reading-Muhlenberg or Locust Grove, but the schools were among 38 Pennsylvania facilities where the modeled ranking showed potentially high levels of toxic pollutants.

“Our testing found the total excess lifetime cancer risk from exposure to pollutants at these schools is within the acceptable range identified by the Environmental Protection Agency,” Hanger said. “DEP remains committed to reducing air pollution throughout the state to reduce the risk of disease and respiratory problems for both children and adults.”

Hanger noted that USA Today used the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicator, or RSEI, to rank each school relative to one another based upon the pollutants likely to be in the air outside the school. But RSEI is a screening tool developed by the EPA to be used for establishing priorities.

“RSEI results do not provide risk estimates,” Hanger said. “The emissions data is self-reported by facilities and may contain errors. In fact, four facilities in the vicinity of the Reading-Muhlenberg CTC are now closed.”

Pollutant concentrations measured through sampling are much more reliable than modeled concentrations, Hanger said.

At each of the schools where DEP conducted monitoring for air toxic metals, the department calculated the excess lifetime cancer risk – that is, the risk over and above the general overall cancer risk of four in 10 – from exposure to the pollutants of concern. The excess lifetime cancer risk was determined to be 9.1 in one million at Reading-Muhlenberg and 9.3 in one million at Locust Grove.

The excess lifetime cancer risk is comparable to the state background level of 9.9 in one million, as determined by air toxics metal monitoring routinely conducted by DEP. The EPA generally considers an excess lifetime cancer risk in excess of one in 10,000 to be unacceptable.

The ambient air sampling data was also used to calculate the non-cancer risk associated with the air toxic metals measured. Both the Locust Grove Mennonite School and Reading-Muhlenberg CTC had calculated hazard quotients less than 1, which is considered acceptable. Detailed reports on DEP’s sampling studies can be found on DEP’s Web site at the following links:

    Teresa Candori
    (717) 787-1323

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Source: newswire

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