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USA Today Article “Toxic Air and America’s Schools”: How is Your Company Depicted?

Posted: December 2nd, 2008

Author: All4 Staff 

If your company reports Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data to U.S. EPA and you have not seen the recent USA Today article and interactive website entitled “The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America’s Schools,” you probably should. Your company may have been implicated as contributing to a health risk for children in schools.  According to the article, USA Today partnered with the University of Massachusetts – Amherst Political Economy Research Institute to develop a computer simulation that predicts ambient concentrations of TRI pollutants at schools from a screening level perspective. 

The simulation uses existing U.S. EPA TRI data, air dispersion models, and default pollutant dispersion parameters.  The air quality modeling that supported the analysis was based on the Risk Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) which uses the outdated Industrial Sources Complex Long Term (ISCLT) air dispersion model, the 2005 TRI data, and a SIC-based set of default stack heights and flow data.  For example, for the pulp and paper industry, the default stack height is about 23 meters with a 10 m/sec exit velocity.

While U.S. EPA cautions against the use of TRI data in the manner presented by USA Today, the key issue at this point is public perception.  If you have already discovered that your company is identified in the analysis as contributing to modeled exposures, have you considered what your response would be to potentially negative press?  Understanding the limitations of the TRI data and the conservative assumptions that are used in the air dispersion modeling will be important in qualifying the conclusions presented in the analysis.


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