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Breathe Easy: MDNR says school campus air quality not a danger to students
Parents of children in the Kennett School District can breathe a little easier following a statement from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) saying the air quality around area campuses is not as harmful to the students as reported by USA Today last year.
According to USA Today, H. Byron Masterson Elementary School, located on the North Bypass in Kennett, was one of seven schools with the worst air quality in the nation.
Following the USA Today report, Jerry Noble, Superintendent of the Kennett School District, contacted the MDNR, in an effort to see if area students were truly in danger.
On April 3, 2009, Jeffry Bennett, air quality modeling unit chief with the MDNR, sent Noble a letter stating that it has been based on its analysis, "there is no cause for alarm regarding air toxics exposure at the Masterson Elementary School."
"Air sampling has been conducted by staff from the department's Environmental Services Program and Southeast Regional Office," Bennett said. "The sampling plan was designed to include 12 daily samples when school was in session and began on Jan. 12, 2009. The closings after the ice storm prevented the completion of the 12-day sampling in January."
Bennett said a total of seven daily samples were collected and analyzed in the first group and the remaining samples began being collected on Feb. 24, 2009, and stopped on March 4, 2009.
"The results demonstrate concentrations of benzene that are considerably lower than the sampling conducted by USA Today in August 2008," Bennett said. "To be clear, it is impossible to assess any long-term exposure findings based on the number of samples collected, however, the Air Pollution Control Program toxicologist has conducted an evaluation based on the average concentration data for all 12 days of sampling.
"This evaluation concludes that two pollutants were detected above a threshold of one cancer in 1 million exposed individuals using a 70-year exposure to these concentrations. The benzene and chloromethane sampled concentrations were very low, but are still above this exposure threshold. To put this in context, corrective action for air toxics pollution is not typically contemplated until the risk level reached the one in 100 threshold."
According to Bennett, the department's sampling effort utilized a very accurate and sensitive set of equipment, allowing the laboratory conducting the analysis to detect many of the 60 pollutants samples at a level of 0.16 parts per billion. All pollutants were able to be detected at a level of one part per billion.
"A part per billion is roughly a teaspoon full of material in an Olympic-sized swimming pool," Bennett said. "This level of sensitivity provides a great deal of confidence in discovering if benzene or other toxic pollutants exist in the area. Additionally, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MDHSS) analyzed these same data using a more rigorous and conservative U.S. Environmental Protection Agency risk assessment method.
This analysis estimated a lower risk of additional cases of cancer associated with lifetime exposure to these concentrations of air toxics than did the analysis conducted by our toxicologist."
According to Noble, the MDNR said the levels of benzene could be due to the vehicles waiting to pick children up after school. He also said the MDNR will come back in the Fall to do another round of tests, since that is when USA Today conducted its investigation.