SEJournal Online is the digital news magazine of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Learn more about SEJournal Online, including submission, subscription and advertising information.
A December 2008 USA Today investigation into toxic air enveloping US schools and ensuing outrage have played a large role in spurring EPA to begin monitoring air quality around 62 schools in 22 states. The monitoring program, announced March 31, 2009, is expected to occur during the next 2 to 5 months, after which the agency says it will respond to the data it acquires.
Among the possible responses for each school, the agency could take actions to reduce emissions from local pollution sources, conduct further monitoring to better understand any problems, or stop monitoring if the agency determines that there are no serious threats.
- EPA program (includes links to the specific school locations); regional EPA contacts are included here.
- USA Today series.
In addition to reporting on what EPA finds for each school (with results expected to be posted on the EPA Web site noted above), other issues to keep in mind include:
- If EPA tracks problems down to emission sources that have been violating their permits, why didn't the agency catch the problem sooner?
- If there are no specific culprits identified, but problems are still acknowledged to exist, does this mean that EPA's approach, largely dependent on regulation of single substances and single sources, doesn't work?
- When EPA assesses the anticipated risk to children at the schools, will it be able to evaluate the combined, cumulative effects of all documented toxic substances?
- What is the situation for thousands of other schools around the country? USA Today identified 435 schools that its analysis found of potential concern, but there could be many more.
- Why are schools drawing such attention, compared to other areas of potential concern, such as inner city areas, industrial areas, environmental justice hotspots, hospitals, day-care centers, senior care facilities, or residential zones around high-emission sources?
- Why did it, once again, take a media investigation to trigger the agency to perform the role it should have been doing all along?
- What is the future of such media investigations, given the rapidly changing nature of the media business?