CRF Blog

Revisiting the Smokestack Effect at Schools

by Damon Huss

Three years ago, USA Today published an investigative report on the air quality at about 128,000 of our nation’s K–12 school sites. Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Smokestack Effect revealed levels of toxic chemicals and industrial pollution at schools that were “widespread, insidious, and largely unaddressed.”

Accompanying the report is an online search feature in which you can find a school by name, city/county, or state. If it’s in the database, you will see how its toxicity ranks against the rest of the schools in the database. For example, I clicked on California and then looked at the first school on the alphabetical list, 4th Street New Primary Center in Los Angeles, California. That school is in the 47th percentile; its air is worse than 59,473 schools nationwide.

The search feature also allows you to look up the most polluted schools state-by-state. Again, I clicked on California. The worst in the state is not 4th Street New Primary Center, by far. Nine California schools rank in the 1st (lowest) percentile, located in Oro Grande, San Marcos, and Berkeley.

For this report, USA Today journalists won the 2009 Grantham Prize and the 2010 Oakes Award for environmental journalism.