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USA Today: EPA doing too little to track air pollution in schools

A map of the schools where air pollution is greatest, from USA Today.
A map of the schools where air pollution is greatest, from USA Today.

PS 20 on Staten Island is more polluted than nine out of 10 schools in the country, according to a a USA Today investigative report.

The newspaper looked at air pollution levels at schools across the country and found that hundreds of thousands of students are exposed to high levels of air pollution at the schools they attend. But the study emphasized that environmental scientists haven’t devoted much attention to determining how much pollution is safe for kids.

The report found PS 20 to be the city’s most polluted public school. But Brooklyn has it worst of the five boroughs, with the greatest number of schools ranked among the most toxic. (See the schools with the worst pollution problems in each borough.)

Some good news for New Yorkers: None of the city’s schools were among the 435 worst polluted in the nation.

The newspaper used the Environmental Protection Agency’s pollution model to rank schools on their exposure to chemical pollutants. The mathematical model uses information provided by polluters, along with weather information, to track the likely movement of toxic chemicals in a given area. Scientists and EPA officials stressed that the numbers are estimates that can best be used to identify schools for additional, on-site pollution testing.

Although the EPA sets standards for acceptable levels of pollution in the workplace, it has not set a similar standard for acceptable levels of exposure for children at school. Because children are smaller than adults and still developing, they may be more vulnerable to negative health effects of toxic chemicals. Yet the EPA has done little to assess pollution exposure at schools, USA Today reported:

The U.S. EPA, which has a special office charged with protecting children’s health, has invested millions of taxpayer dollars in pollution models that could help identify schools where toxic chemicals saturate the air. Even so, USA TODAY found, the agency has all but ignored examining whether the air is unsafe at the very locations where kids are required to gather.

Use USA Today’s searchable map to find out how your local school compares.

The ten most polluted public schools in each borough, according to USA Today:


  • P.S. 43 Jonas Bronck School, 165 Brown Place (35th percentile)
  • P.S. 161 Ponce De Leon School, 628 Tinton Ave. (36th percentile)
  • P.S. 62 Inocensio Casanova School, 660 Fox St. (36th percentile)
  • M.S. 302 Luisa Dessus Cruz, 681 Kelly St. (36th percentile)
  • P.S. 277, 519 St. Ann’s Ave. (38th percentile)
  • J.H.S. 162, L. Rodriguez de Tio School, 600 St. Ann’s Ave. (38th percentile)
  • Samuel Gompers Vocational High School, 455 Southern Boulevard (38th percentile)
  • P.S. 25 Bilingual School, 811 E. 149th St. (38th percentile)
  • P.S. 5 Port Morris School, 564 Jackson Ave. (38th percentile)
  • Foreign Language Academy of Global Studies, 470 Jackson Ave. (38th percentile)
  • Three other Bronx schools also ranked at the 38th percentile.


  • P.S. 373 Brooklyn Transition Center, 185 Ellery St. (12th percentile)
  • Urban Assembly School for Urban Environment, 70 Tompkins Ave. (12th percentile)
  • The Brooklyn Charter School and P.S. 23 Carter G. Woodson, 545 Willoughby Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 59 William Floyd School, 211 Throop Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 297 Richard Stockton School, 700 Park Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 25 Eubie Blake School, 787 Lafayette Ave. (12th percentile)
  • P.S. 304 Casmir Pulaski School, 208 Hart St. (12th percentile)
  • J.H.S. 318 Eugeno Maria Dehostos School, 101 Walton St. (17th percentile)
  • P.S. 120 Carlos Tapia Magnet School, 18 Beaver St. (17th percentile)
  • P.S. 250 George H. Lindsay, 108 Montrose Ave. (17th percentile)
  • One additional Brooklyn school, P.S. 257 John F. Hylan School at 60 Cook St., also ranked at the 17th percentile.


  • Richard R. Green High School of Teaching, 421 East 88th St. (22nd percentile)
  • East Side Middle School and P.S. 158 Bayard Taylor School, 1458 York Ave. (23rd percentile)
  • The Family School, 323 E. 47th St. (26th percentile)
  • Environmental Science Secondary School and M.S. 224 Manhattan East Center, 410 E. 100th St. (30th percentile)
  • New York Center for Autism Charter School and P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio School, 433 E. 100th St. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 59 Beekman Hill School, 228 E. 57th St. (30th percentile)
  • High School of Art and Design, 1075 Second Ave. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 38 Roberto Clemente, 232 E. 103rd St. (30th percentile)


  • P.S. 85 Judge Charles Vallone, 23-70 31st St., Long Island City (14th percentile)
  • Academy for New Americans, 30-14 30th St., Astoria (14th percentile)
  • P.S. 17 Henry David Thoreau School, 28-37 29th St., Astoria (14th percentile)
  • P.S. 234, 30-15 29th St., Astoria (14th percentile)
  • P.S. 84 Steinway School, 22-45 41st St., Astoria (15th percentile)
  • I.S. 141 The Steinway School, 37-11 21st Ave., Long Island City (15th percentile)
  • P.S. 2 Alfred Zimberg School, 75-10 21st. Ave., Jackson Heights (15th percentile)
  • Newcomers High School, Academy of American Studies, 28-01 41st. Ave. (17th percentile)
  • Middle College High School, High School for Applied Communications, and International High School at LaGuardia, 31-10 Thomson Ave. (17th percentile)
  • P.S. 78, 48-09 Center Blvd. (18th percentile)

Staten Island:

  • P.S. 20 Port Richmond School, 161 Park Ave. (11th percentile)
  • P.S. 56 Louis Desario School, 250 Kramer Ave. (20th percentile)
  • P.S. 18 John G. Whittier School, 221 Broadway (23rd percentile)
  • Port Richmond High School, 45 Innis St. (23rd percentile)
  • P.S. 6 Cpl. Allan F. Kivlehan School, 555 Page Ave. (28th percentile)
  • I.S. 34 Tottenville, 528 Academy Ave. (28th percentile)
  • P.S. 3 Pleasant Plains School, 80 South Goff Ave. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 26 Carteret School, 4108 Victory Boulevard (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 21 Margaret Emery-Elm Park School, 168 Hooker Pl. (30th percentile)
  • P.S. 44 Thomas C. Brown School, 80 Maple Parkway (31st percentile)
  • Four other schools in Staten Island ranked at the 31st percentile.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”