EPA to test schools for air pollution

March 31, 2009 (EAST CHICAGO, Ind.) It's one of 62 schools being tested across the country for toxins and pollutants. Another is in East Chicago, Indiana.

Arcelor Mittal is the largest steel company in the world. Its mills are just a stone's throw from several schools in East Chicago, including Abraham Lincoln Elementary.

A recent study conducted by USA Today, using government data, ranks Lincoln as 24 out of nearly 128,000 schools nationwide in terms of highest levels of air pollutants around it.

"It's a huge concern because when you start to think about a lot of the things the children are having to combat with, not just the area alone but then you have pollution. You have the concerns and things from the mills. It's kind of two-fold though because you know that you need the area because of the jobs but at the other end your children have to still go to school," said Erika Watkins, East Chicago parent.

Fueled part by the study, the EPA announced plans on Tuesday to measure air toxin levels at a cross section of schools nationwide, including three in the Chicago area: St. Josaphat in Chicago, Gary's Jefferson Elementary School and East Chicago's Abraham Lincoln Elementary.

School board president, Fernando Treviño, says he's happy something is finally being done about the problem.

"We are excited the EPA is finally working to monitor the air quality of this area and make sure the kids are safe. That's of utmost importance to us," said Treviño.

According to a statement put out on Tuesday by the EPA, schools in the study will have monitors installed to measure air pollutant over a 60-day period. The data will then be analyzed looking specifically for potential for long-term impact. Once that is done, they will evaluate what actions are need to reduce the level of pollutants.

"I think it's a pretty good idea. We have a lot of factories by us. So the pollution is bad sometimes in the summer. Sometimes you smell it when you walk out of the house," said Karen Manhart, East Chicago parent.

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