Pol­lu­tion from tra∞c poses risk to schools

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Ann Schimke

In­ter­state 25, where more than 200,000 ve­hi­cles rush by each day, sits just a few hun­dred feet from the front doors of High­line Academy Char­ter School’s south­east Den­ver cam­pus.

At Swansea El­e­men­tary School in north Den­ver, kids frolic near the busy In­ter­state 70 over­pass that abuts the play­ground. Three miles west, at a char­ter school called STRIVE Prep–Sun­ny­side, the same high­way looms just past a chain-link fence next to the school.

The three schools are among 29 in Den­ver Pub­lic Schools — 10 of them char­ters — that sit near high­traf­fic roads and the in­vis­i­ble air pol­lu­tion those routes gen­er­ate daily. Ex­perts say such pol­lu­tion can stunt lung de­vel­op­ment, ag­gra­vate asthma and con­trib­ute to heart dis­ease, but there’s lit­tle pub­lic aware­ness about the prob­lem and mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts are sparse.

A new on­line map­ping tool, part of a joint in­ves­tiga­tive pro­ject by two non­profit news or­ga­ni­za­tions, the Cen­ter for Pub­lic In­tegrity and Re­veal, puts the is­sue in stark re­lief. Res­i­dents across Colorado and the na­tion can eas­ily check which schools fall into red zones where traf­fic vol­ume, and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing air pol­lu­tion, is worst, and or­ange zones where traf­fic vol­ume is lower, but still po­ten­tially prob­lem­atic for kids and staff who may spend long hours at their schools.

Eleven DPS schools — ed­u­cat­ing more than 8,000 stu­dents — fell into the red zone, which means they sit within 500 feet of roads car­ry­ing more than 30,000 ve­hi­cles a day on av­er­age. Those in­clude char­ters such as High­line and Strive Prep–Sun­ny­side, and tra­di­tional pub­lic schools such as Swansea and Steele el­e­men­taries and Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, Lin­coln and East high schools.

An­other 18 district schools, plus one in the Cherry Creek district and one in the Adams 12 district, fall into the or­ange zone, which in­cludes schools that are within 500 feet of roads car­ry­ing more than 10,000 ve­hi­cles and more than 500 trucks daily. The 18 DPS schools in­clude two ad­di­tional STRIVE Prep lo­ca­tions, two schools in­side the down­town ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing and the district’s mag­net school for stu­dents des­ig­nated as highly gifted: Po­laris at Ebert El­e­men­tary.

DPS of­fi­cials say air pol­lu­tion re­sult­ing from schools’ prox­im­ity to busy road­ways hasn’t been dis­cussed pre­vi­ously and that mit­i­ga­tion mea­sures aren’t in place at most af­fected schools.

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