Study cites schools with highest level of toxic pollutants - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Study cites schools with highest level of toxic pollutants

Stanley Tamashiro Stanley Tamashiro

By Leland Kim - bio | email

EWA (KHNL) -  One hundred twenty eight thousand schools, including more than 300 here in Hawaii are the subject of a national newspaper study of toxic air at America's schools.

Wednesday, we look at the schools most at risk in the Aloha state, according to USA Today.

The nationally distributed newspaper used an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) model to track industrial pollution near schools nationwide.

It says what it found was, "insidious, widespread, and should cause government regulators to take action to protect our children."

Here on Oahu, the study identifies Ewa Elementary in the western part of the island as most at risk. It ranks in the sixth percentile, meaning that, of the more than 127,800 schools reviewed only 6,060 had worse air.

Parents were surprised to learn their kids' school rank the worst on the island.  They say they smell foul odors in the air from time to time, but had no idea they could potentially be toxic.

Parents pick up their children at Ewa Elementary Wednesday afternoon.  Most of them were not aware of the USA Today/EPA study about pollution.     

"It's worrisome, I guess, for now, knowing that all this pollution is floating around," said Stuart Gandauli, a parent whose eight-year-old son attends the school.

Ewa Elementary principal Stanley Tamashiro doesn't believe his students are at risk.

"I think that if the state department of health or the EPA felt that we were challenged by pollution, they would notify us, but we haven't had that notification," he said. "I'm confident that our department, DOE safety office and department of health and the EPA will protect us."

So for the time being, Tamashiro says there's nothing to worry about.

"I would say come to school as you have been and if there is a legitimate reason the air quality is not up to par, we will be notified and we will notify parents," he said.

For now, parents continue trusting school officials.

"As far as letting our son go to school here, we have no problem with that," said  Gandauli, "I think me and my wife, we like our son going to this school because he receives good education."

"You're confident  the principal and state officials will do all they can to minimize the risk?" asked KHNL.

"I would hope so that they're doing what they can to do just that," said Gandauli

The school's close proximity to Campbell Industrial Park is the main reason the study cites Ewa Elementary's ranking as high.

Other schools in Ewa Beach and Kapolei also rank high.  As far as the rest of the state, five schools in Kahului, Maui, rank higher.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday that schools are safe and that parents should not worry.

"They should keep their kids going to school," said EPA spokesperson Matt Haber.  "We are assessing whether there are risks that need to be reduced but we don't think there is any reason to worry about risks in the near term to them or their children."

Responding to the USA Today report, Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) spokesperson Darren Pai said they take their commitment to protecting the environment seriously.

"We live here, our children go to school here, so we are just as concerned about their health as anyone else," said Pai.  "Fortunately, Hawaii has some of the cleanest air in the country and HECO meets or exceeds all government air quality standards."

The Hawaii department of education also is confident that our state's children are well protected.

"We rely on the department of health.  They have monitors situated statewide," said Gary Yasui, acting administrator for the department of education's safety and security section. "We are very confident that if there are any issues the DOH would notify the department of education of any issues that may come up."

Neighbor island schools are identified in the report as well.  On Kauai, Ele'ele Elementary was far down the list.  On Maui, Kahului Elementary was identified as the most-at-risk school in the state for airborne toxic pollution.  On the Big Island, Waiakea Elementary in Hilo is included in the report.

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