EPA has Miss. meeting on school air-quality study

Published 11:16 pm Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Environmental Protection Agency was set Tuesday to host a public meeting in the small east Mississippi town of Enterprise to answer questions about a national school air-quality study.

Enterprise High School was one of 62 schools in 22 states and the only one in Mississippi selected by the EPA for the study.

Paul Wagner, an EPA environmental scientist, would not specifically say why Enterprise High School is part of the project. He said Monday that the EPA used comprehensive data to select schools were air-quality problems might exist.

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The study was formed after a series of reports last year by USA Today that identified schools where chemicals from nearby industries had an impact on air quality.

“We are looking at schools that based on modeling information that we have, we have some reason to question the quality of the air outside the schools,” Wagner said. “That’s not to say that their air quality is bad. But … it’s worth looking at a little more closely.”

The EPA and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality will co-host the meeting in Enterprise, a town of about 450 people in Clarke County near the Alabama state line.

The EPA is focused on schools near large industries and in urban areas, where emissions of toxic air comes from a mix of large and small industries, cars, trucks, buses and other sources. The agency said it will also monitor for chemicals commonly found in areas of the country that may have harmful effects if people are exposed to them at high levels over a long period.

Danny Jackson, a branch chief in the Office of Pollution Control at MDEQ, said the EPA chose Enterprise High after state environmental officials provided the agency with information on emissions in the area. MDEQ also tested other locations in the state.

“Nothing is showing up there (in Enterprise) from our indications,” said Jackson, who said he could not say why Enterprise was selected. “I will probably have to divert that question to EPA,” he said.

Jackson said EPA and MDEQ representatives set up the 6 p.m. meeting at Enterprise High School to share information with the public and “let people know what we will be working on and just to answer any questions.”

The monitoring process will begin this summer at the high school, he said.

“Our role will be to operate the monitoring site. We are on track to begin sometime in July. We will be collecting about 10 samples over a 60-day period,” Jackson said.

Data from the study will be released on the EPA’s Web site, Wagner said.

The EPA is asking state and local agencies to install and operate the monitors and the agency has up to $2.5 million to spend on the study. The monitoring process will begin at each school as the equipment is installed.

The result will be analyzed to estimate how exposure to the air around the selected schools might affect the health of children. The EPA will then make projections of the potential long-term health concerns.

On the Net:

EPA Schools Air Toxics Monitoring Project: http://www.epa.gov/schoolair