Rooms near the fumes: Analysis shows nearly 250 city schools sit near high-pollution highways
Almost 250 city schools are just hundreds of feet from highways with the highest risk of air pollution, a new analysis found.
The report, conducted by the real estate listing platform Localize.city, found 244 New York City schools sited within 500 feet of highways or major roadways – the distance under which the Environmental Protection Agency says the pollution risk is highest.
“When parents debate how to rank their child’s pre-K programs or elementary schools… they might not pay attention to hidden hazards of air quality,” said Liat Halpern, an urban planner at Localize.city.
“We think it’s important for parents to have this kind of information when they’re making decisions,” she added.
The School Construction Authority, the agency that decides on locations for new school buildings, conducts “rigorous environmental impact studies” at each potential site, including air pollution, spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.
The EPA advises districts not to build schools within 500 feet of freeways, where air pollution is measurably higher. Breathing car and truck fumes can lead to long-term respiratory problems, and kids in schools closer to highways had slightly lower test scores than otherwise similar students in less polluted areas, a recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found.
California passed a law in 2003 banning the building of new schools within 500 feet of a freeway. New York City, however, continues to open schools in the shadow of major thoroughfares.
For example, P.S. 398 in Jackson Heights, Queens, will open its doors for the first time Sept. 6 just 200 feet from the BQE. And Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which is bisected by the BQE and boasts several heavily-trafficked truck routes, has 14 schools near major roads, with another set to open next fall.
Ortiz said the new Sunset Park school was designed so doors and outdoor areas would face away from the highway.
Amy Zimmer, a co-author of the Localize.city analysis, acknowledged the difficulty of finding any new school sites — not to mention ones more than 500 feet from a highway — in such a densely-packed city, but hopes the new data will help generate more conversation about air pollution in schools.