Air pollution has been a tremendous health problem in the United States and other industrial countries for years. America has worked to clean up the air in its largest cities. Decades ago, huge patches of smog regularly appeared over cities like Los Angeles. Regulations about the controlled industrial air pollution helped bring these levels of this down.
One of the most alarming statistics about air pollution is how dangerous it can be to health. The worst examples of this tend to be in countries where air pollution is not regulated, particularly in China. Air pollution is blamed for tens of thousands of deaths per year.
One study measures air pollution around schools where it can affect the health the some of the youngest Americans.
To identify the state where public schools have the highest concentrations of toxic air hazards, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the average toxic air hazard data in the 50 Schools in America With the Most Toxic Air report by playground equipment supplier AAA State of Play.
The report used PERI Toxic Hazard Scores, calculated by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The analysis includes only currently operational regular public schools for pre-K-12 and does not cover charter, alternative, private or adult education institutions. The scores are based on the concentration of air toxins in each 810-by-810-meter (2,657-by-2,657-foot) grid cell within 50 kilometers (31 miles) of each facility, scaled to take into account the toxicity weight of each chemical.
Each state’s average public school spending per pupil was obtained from U.S. Public Education Spending Statistics, a report published on March 15, 2022. Poverty statistics came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey.
According to the PERI report, all the chemicals measured are hazardous, but their toxicities vary greatly. Lead or lead compounds permeated schools in seven states, making it the top toxin. Nickel came in second at six. Exposure to high amounts of lead can damage the central nervous system and brain in young children, leading to behavioral disorders and learning disabilities, according to the World Health Organization. Nickel exposure can damage the kidneys, lungs and stomach, and it may cause cancer.
The national average toxic hazard score at schools across the United States is 4,512. Kansas and Delaware had levels under that threshold but were still fairly high at 4,110 and 4,428, respectively.
Schools in Oregon topped the list with an alarming score of 17,203. The toxin most prevalent in its schools is formaldehyde, a colorless, flammable gas. Found mostly in pesticides and building materials, formaldehyde has a strong odor. Excessive exposure to it causes eye, skin and throat irritation, and it has been implicated in some cancers.
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