Pollution from tra∞c poses risk to schools
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.