, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

March 2, 2009

EPA to test school air for chemical toxins

By Sherry Koonce

The News staff writer

Within the next 30 days, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to begin testing the air around some schools for toxic contaminants.

The Associated Press reported a $2.25 million program announced Monday will be the first to specifically target air contamination near schools. The EPA already operates a nationwide monitoring network that collects information on a variety of air pollutants.

The school monitors will focus on toxic chemicals that are known to cause cancer, respiratory and neurological problems. Because children are still growing, those type chemicals can have a greater impact on a child’s health.

“I think it is about time they started doing that. It is very important we do everything possible to protect our kids from air toxins,” Hilton Kelley, a local air quality activist, said.

Kelley, of Port Arthur, is the director of Community Enpowerment Development Association. Last year Kelley was appointed to serve on the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council — a group charged with advising the EPA with the community’s needs where there are big polluters.

In Southeast Texas, there are a number of schools located just a stone’s throw from chemical plants.

Children attending those campuses suffer a disapportionate amount of respiratory problems, sinus infections and asthma, Kelley said.

In Port Arthur, there is a huge problem with sulfur dioxide — a byproduct from crude oil — which is known to attack the nervous and respiratory system, he said.

Carbon Monoxide and particulate matter are also concerns.

“Little kids from age 0 to 10, their bodies are still developing. Their lungs are real sensitive,” Kelley said.

Port Arthur is not the only district with campuses near chemical plants.

Port Neches-Groves was the subject in an expansive article published in USA Today in December 2008. The article, entitled, “Smokestack effect: Cancer in Port Neches,” described Port Neches-Groves High School and its close proximity to nearby chemical companies that manufacture styrene butadiene.

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