EPA grant aimed at reducing air pollution in parts of St. Louis

Thursday, November 10, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- A not-for-profit group that's been helping poor St. Louisans for more than a century will start advocating for their health by working to reduce air pollution.

Grace Hill Settlement House, founded in 1903, will use a $332,439 federal grant to begin a five-part project aimed at cleaning the air in some of the city's most heavily polluted neighborhoods. They are north and south of the downtown, alongside the Mississippi River's industrial corridor.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the grant, one of only 12 awarded in the country, on Wednesday.

Grace Hill organizer Douglas Eller said north St. Louis has one of the highest rates of asthma and other respiratory problems in Missouri. Some of its neighborhoods have the highest reading of particulate matter in the state.

"People think it's normal," said Eller, managing director of community development. "When you ask who knows someone with [breathing] problems, every hand goes up."

Eller said the project will identify pollution "hot spots" with technology and eyewitness accounts, and work with polluting companies to reduce their toxic emissions.

"We're going to use collaboration, discussion, and hold them responsible to their agreements with us," he said.

The project also will provide a clean air hot line, reduce school bus idling, educate the public, and promote air-friendly cleaning products.

EPA manager Kathleen Fenton said the agency awards community action grants for environmental projects as varied as watershed protection to lead-poisoning prevention. The grants are highly competitive.

The EPA will provide Grace Hill and the neighborhoods both technical expertise and tools such as air monitoring stations, data on the amount of industrial pollution released into the air, analysis and advice.

Residents will be encouraged to call a 24-hour clean air hot line and to report any skin, eye, lung or nose irritations. The reports will be documented and charted on a map to help identify hot spots, and reported to the city's air pollution control division.

Eller said Grace Hill will help schools reach agreements with school bus providers to turn off their idling bus engines. He said the nation is moving toward idle-free schools because diesel-engine emissions are especially unhealthy. A St. Louis ordinance forbidding engine idling in front of schools is not enforced, he said.

"This will depend on citizen participation," he said. "Parents will report back to the school. It's through that kind of pressure we'll get it done."

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