UMass Amherst Political Economy Research Institute Updates Tool Tracking Air Pollution at Every U.S. School
Researchers with the Corporate Toxics Information Project of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) have updated the interactive web-based tool tracking industrial toxic air pollution at every public and private school in the United States.
The tool, Air Toxics at School, reports toxicity-weighted concentrations of pollutants to show the comparative individual chronic health risk from industrial toxic air pollution at each K-12 and higher-education institution identified in databases maintained by the U.S. Department of Education. Each school was geo-matched to 2020 U.S. EPA pollution concentration data to show toxic air pollution at the school site. The air pollution analyzed comes from large, fixed sources, such as factories, refineries, petroleum depots, metal mining and toxic disposal facilities.
Users can look up any school in the nation and receive a report on the industrial facilities and the toxic chemicals that generate health risks at the school’s location. The report on each school lists pollution sources affecting the school and puts the impact in comparative context relative to all schools in the state and in the country.
Users can also receive a report on all schools in a state. For example, the average air pollution at schools in Illinois is about 22% more than the national average, with nickel, manganese and chromium among the leading pollutants. The five schools in Illinois with the highest air pollution – in Loves Park and Machesney Park, both in the vicinity of Rockford, and East Alton, which is near Saint Louis – have air pollution in the top percentile in both the state and the U.S.
When Air Toxics at School was initially released in 2021, Michael Ash, professor of economics and public policy at UMass Amherst and CTIP co-director, said that the goal of the tool is to facilitate public access to public information and to engender discussion among parents and students, school teachers, staff and administration, regulators, companies and the broader public.
“This tool builds on the achievements of the right-to-know movement,” Ash said at the time. “Our goal is to engender public participation in environmental decision-making, and to help residents translate the right to know into an equitable right to clean air, clean water and a livable planet. We hope that the public uses this tool to inform and empower itself.”
The EPA Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) reports annual releases of approximately 600 toxic chemicals by some 20,000 major industrial facilities in the U.S. The researchers note the EPA data does not include pollution from mobile sources, agriculture, fracking or other sources that are also major contributors to health risk from air pollution. The EPA uses geographic, facility, and chemical data to estimate the concentrations of pollutants in every 810m2 square within 50 km around every facility and models toxicity to capture chemical danger on a per-pound basis. These estimates form the basis of the Air Toxics at School reporting.
Modeled on the web-based tool provided by the award-winning 2008 USA Today project “The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America’s Schools,” Air Toxics at School allows users to search schools by name or location and to explore results in more detail. Facility names are linked to the EPA’s Envirofacts Toxic Release Inventory display for that facility. Parent company names are linked to PERI’s 2020 Toxic 100 Air application, which provides a detailed display of all the TRI-reporting facilities owned by the company, all TRI chemicals released and environmental justice indicators for toxic air pollution from the company’s facilities. Chemical names are linked to New Jersey Right-To-Know Hazardous Substance Fact Sheets on chemical health effects, while city names are linked to a MapQuest street map centered on the school’s latitude and longitude.
The Air Toxics at School tool is available on the PERI website, as are all other toxic indexes created by CTIP, including the Toxic 100 Air Polluters and Toxic 100 Water Polluters lists.
Related: Updated Toxic 100 and Greenhouse 100 Lists from UMass Amherst Name Top Climate, Air and Water Polluters in the U.S.
Researchers at the UMass Amherst Political Economy Research Institute recently released the latest yearly editions of its Toxic 100 lists of the top corporate air and water polluters and top greenhouse gas emitters in the United States, based on the most recent data available from the Environmental Protection Agency.