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Freeway pollution putting 80,000 area schoolkids at risk

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout' started by da1, Dec 29, 2013.

  1. da1

    da1 Member

    Apr 8, 2008
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    Roadway pollution putting 80,000 area schoolkids at risk

    Study determines 127 area campuses located too close to vehicle exhausts

    By Matthew Tresaugue

    December 22, 2013

    More than 80,000 children in the Houston area attend school near a freeway or other major road amid mounting evidence that air pollution from cars and trucks can be especially damaging to developing lungs.

    A Houston Chronicle analysis found 127 public schools in the eight-county region are located within 200 meters of a heavily traveled road - the distance within which scientists and federal regulators say traffic-related pollution is most potent.

    Despite the risk to children's health, Texas law does not prevent K-12 schools being built near freeways, and school districts say roadway pollution is rarely, if ever, considered in their decisions where to place campuses. The issue has failed to gain traction among lawmakers in Austin.

    While Houston is known for dirty air, in part because of its heavy industry and busy port, "we have hot spots of pollution all along the freeways," said Winifred Hamilton, director of environmental health at the Baylor College of Medicine. "By sending our children to places near freeways for at least 30 percent of their day, we're undermining our own future. They won't be as healthy, and they won't perform at their highest levels."

    The school day lasts about seven hours - and even longer for students participating in sports, band or other activities. Many Houston-area campuses are located near major roads because space constraints are so severe that there are no other options, school districts say, adding that their choices have become more and more limited as the region grows.

    In some cases, such as the 78-year-old Cy-Fair High School along U.S. 290, the schools were built before the roads grew wide and congested. In other instances, school districts preferred sites near thoroughfares to provide more convenient access for buses.

    Yet research shows school-age children are especially vulnerable to harmful air because they breathe more rapidly than adults relative to their body weight. This allows a larger dose of pollutants to enter their developing lungs, making them more likely to be afflicted with respiratory infections than their parents.

    Also, studies show children who live near freeways are more likely to suffer from asthma attacks, bronchitis and decreased lung function than those who do not live near them.

    Dangerous brew

    Cars and trucks emit smog-forming nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and ultra-fine particles that can reach the deepest parts of the lungs. Even more menacing is exhaust from diesel-fueled buses and trucks - which is so toxic that scientists say it can cause cancer.

    Proximity doesn't necessarily equal risk, with wind patterns and topography among the variables. But Baylor's Hamilton said there is substantial evidence, starting with a landmark German study in 1993, to be concerned about children's daily exposure to air pollution from freeways.

    In addition to poor lung function, research has found relationships between the proximity of schools to major roads and adverse effects on learning, behavior and absenteeism, she said.

    At least six states have policies prohibiting the construction of schools near freeways, railroads or airports, according to a study prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency. California, for one, bans districts from building campuses within 500 feet of a freeway, unless the district can mitigate the pollution or determines there are no other options because of space limitations.

    Texas has no such requirements. Four years ago, state lawmakers did not act on a bill intended to force school districts to establish policies for selecting places to build, subject to the approval of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

    The bill, which was authored by two Austin Democrats, stopped short of preventing school districts from building in certain spots. But the legislation would have required district officials to notify the public before buying property if an environmental review raised any red flags.

    Elena Craft, an Austin-based health scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, said she is hopeful that lawmakers will take another look at the siting issue during their next session.

    "Where we locate schools should not be an afterthought," Craft said. "We need school districts to have better policies, but it's not happening on its own."

    Examples everywhere

    Pick almost any major road in the Houston area, and you will find a school next to it. Through a windshield, it's all there to see:

    The busy interchange of Interstate 45 and Loop 610 South looms behind Crespo Elementary, built by the Houston school district in 1992. In La Porte, the new Bayshore Elementary sits alongside Texas 146, a truck route for the Bayport terminal and several chemical makers.

    On the north side, the Aldine Ninth Grade School, built in 1998, bumps up hard against 16 lanes of I-45. Its football field and track, which the campus shares with the nearby Aldine Senior High School, are located roughly 75 meters, or about 250 feet, from the freeway.

    The Aldine school district, like others in the Houston area, does not have a policy requiring a buffer between campuses and freeways. Its usual practice is to buy a swath of land large enough to accommodate more than one school in an attempt to keep costs low, said Jason Spencer, assistant superintendent of community and governmental relations.

    Districts typically set aside about 10 acres for an elementary school, 30 acres for a middle school and 80 acres for a high school.

    "It's not like buying a half-acre lot," said Jeff Windsor, the Spring school district's director of construction and energy. "There are just not a lot of empty fields around here."

    For instance, Windsor said Spring officials had limited options a decade ago when it purchased nine acres of partially wooded land for a new elementary school to accommodate growth in the district's northern neighborhoods.

    The site for Northgate Crossing Elementary is near where I-45 and the Hardy Toll Road meet. Despite the school's proximity to freeways, the district's environmental review found no areas of concern but did not look at traffic pollution.

    The district has plans to construct a middle school beside Northgate Crossing Elementary. Exxon Mobil, meanwhile, is building a massive corporate campus on the other side of I-45, a project that will likely increase traffic in the area. The state estimates that between 225,000 and 250,000 cars and trucks already use that stretch of freeway each day.

    "That site is a very good site," Windsor said of Northgate Crossing Elementary, which is bounded by the Hardy Toll Road to the north. "Would we have liked to have been a few blocks farther south? Sure. But it was a good piece of land with good access and the right price."

    Seeking solutions

    Recently a parent at the Awty International School raised concerns about the West Houston private school's location beside Interstate 10, near the 610 Loop West. A playground sits behind a wall along the feeder road.

    So Awty invited the nonprofit Air Alliance Houston to measure the levels of tiny airborne particles at various spots on the campus, which serves students from preschool through the 12th grade. With wind blowing away from the school, concentrations were within federal limits.

    Awty intends to bring the anti-pollution group back to measure particle levels on a day with less favorable conditions. In the meantime, the school - with student input - is considering steps to reduce air pollution and exposure, such as banning idling in its carpool line, said Leslie Nogaret, the school's sustainability coordinator and a mother of two students.

    "That's something we can fix," Nogaret said. "It's a lot harder to do something about I-10 and 610."

    One solution might come from the EPA, which has proposed rules requiring cleaner gasoline and fleet-wide pollution limits on new vehicles. To make its case, the agency noted the prevalence of schools close to freeways across the country.

    In a separate action, the EPA and state regulators next month will install a monitor along U.S. 59 in southwest Houston to help assess the near-road health risks of traffic pollution. BenavĂ­dez Elementary, built by the Houston school district in 1992, sits near where they will collect the data.

    Indoor air not the issue

    Craft, the Austin-based health scientist, is hopeful that new information will influence siting decisions in the future.

    The Houston school district does not have a school-siting policy but has pledged that all new buildings will meet LEED standards for being environmentally sound. The certification requires improvements in energy efficiency, ventilation systems and traffic flow around campus, among other things.

    The Houston district, for example, replaced Roosevelt Elementary on the same site where it opened in 1929 - now about 200 meters from where I-45 and Loop 610 North meet. The new, more compact school uses less energy, and fuel-efficient vehicles receive preferred parking.

    "We want our schools to provide healthy learning environments, no matter their location," said Tiffany Davila-Dunne, a Houston district spokeswoman.

    Although the new buildings reduce indoor air quality problems, the location of the schools still matters, said Hamilton, the environmental health director at Baylor.

    "It makes a difference if you stay inside," she said. "But it is not enough to make hermetically sealed buildings that are safer than being outside. We want children to get outside."

  2. Master Baiter

    Master Baiter Contributing Member

    Jul 6, 2001
    Likes Received:
    I saw half of the thread title on the main BBS page and thought, "Hey, I bet this is a da1 thread." What do I win?
  3. Space Ghost

    Space Ghost Contributing Member

    Feb 14, 1999
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    At least he's passionate about real problems.
  4. Mr. Brightside

    Mr. Brightside Contributing Member

    Mar 27, 2005
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    The children are our future.
  5. Master Baiter

    Master Baiter Contributing Member

    Jul 6, 2001
    Likes Received:
    I seriously love the idea of public transportation that isn't a bus system.
  6. GanjaRocket

    GanjaRocket Member

    Nov 21, 2012
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    gotta get the kids involved for it to appeal to people around here lol

    RKREBORN Member

    Jul 24, 2006
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    Sure thousands will get sick, but millions will be late!

  8. Buck Turgidson

    Buck Turgidson Mineshaft Enthusiast

    Feb 14, 2002
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    How many children are put at risk by being in close proximity to railroad tracks and buses?
  9. rudan

    rudan Member

    Jun 30, 2006
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    How many children are put at risk from bleeding heart liberals???
  10. droopy421

    droopy421 Member

    Jun 24, 2010
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    <iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/Qh2sWSVRrmo" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

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