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EPA to test air at four local schools

| Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced it will test for toxic air contaminants at 62 schools nationwide, including four in Allegheny County.

The list of schools in 22 states includes Sto-Rox Elementary School, where the Allegheny County Health Department found elevated levels of industrial solvents benzene and toluene, and Sto-Rox Middle School, where about 40 students and faculty members developed a mysterious rash. Both schools are located in Stowe.

The EPA also will conduct tests at Clairton Education Center, which is near U.S. Steel's Clairton Works coke plant, and South Allegheny Middle/High School in McKeesport.

The EPA said it will work with state and local agencies to begin monitoring outdoor air at the selected schools. They were chosen because of their nearness to industrial facilities or other sources of pollution.

Some testing will start immediately. Other schools would not see testing for 60 to 90 days.

Testing will focus on toxic chemicals that are known to cause cancer, respiratory and neurological problems — especially in children, who are more susceptible than adults.

"EPA, state, and local officials are mobilizing to determine where elevated levels of toxics pose a threat, so that we can take swift action to protect our children at their schools," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. The agency will spend $2.25 million purchasing the monitors and paying for the laboratory analysis.

Once in place, the new equipment will collect air samples on 10 days over a month. The EPA will cease monitoring at the school if the results show good air quality. But if high levels of contaminants are detected, the agency will take steps to reduce the pollution.

The list of schools that will be monitored can be found on the EPA's Web site .

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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