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Assessing Outdoor Air Near Schools

Riverside Elementary School - Reading, PA

Results and Analysis of EPA’s monitoring

EPA selected this school for monitoring because it is located near a steel mill that is a source of air toxics emissions.  Computer models were used to determine which air toxics may be present at elevated levels in the outdoor air near the school. These models showed that hexavalent chromium could be present in the air around the school and prompted EPA to test to see if the levels present may be of concern.  

Primary Findings Levels of hexavalent chromium in the air at the school are below levels of concern for short-term and long-term exposure. 
Key Pollutants Monitored Hexavalent chromium. Inhalation of hexavalent chromium at high levels can damage the respiratory system and cause cancer.
Next Steps EPA will not extend air toxics monitoring at Riverside Elementary School at this time because levels of hexavalent chromium measured in the air at the school during the monitoring period were well below levels of concern for long-term exposure. 

EPA remains concerned about emissions from sources of air toxics and continues to work to reduce those emissions across the country, through national rules and by providing information and suggestions to assist with reductions in local areas.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) will continue to oversee industrial facilities in the area through the facility’s Title V air permit and other programs.

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Summary of Study Approach and Findings


  • A monitor collected air samples from August 5, 2009 through October 28, 2009 at the Riverside Elementary School in Reading, Pennsylvania.  Hexavalent chromium was the pollutant of interest (“key pollutant”). 
  • We posted individual air sample results on this website throughout the monitoring period to keep your community informed during the monitoring period.   
  • During the monitoring period, we evaluated the monitored concentrations to see if there was a concern from short-term exposures (e.g., several weeks).
  • When the monitoring was complete, we analyzed the results to see if there was a concern from long-term exposures (over a lifetime).
  • Also, when the monitoring was complete, we evaluated all the air samples from the on-site monitor. We also evaluated information on wind speed and wind direction from a weather monitor at the school, along with historical weather information and operations information from the nearby steel mill.


  • Our analysis found that levels of hexavalent chromium in the air at the school are below levels of concern for long-term exposure.
  • Our analysis indicates that hexavalent chromium concentrations in the air near the school appear to be influenced by a nearby industrial facility.
  • The process to identify schools for monitoring relied on emissions estimates and other information.  Ambient air monitoring at the school allowed measurement of what was actually in the air.
  • The most recently available chromium emissions estimates for the nearby facility from the 2008 EPA Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) arelower than the estimates used to identify this school for monitoring. 
  • Because the analysis shows hexavalent chromium levels are below levels of concern, EPA will not extend air toxics monitoring at Riverside Elementary School.
  • Click here for additional information

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How We Analyzed the Information We Collected at this School

The analysis considered whether the information collected at the school might raise concerns for the health of children or adults at the school. We looked at the following types of information:

  • Measured hexavalent chromium concentrations
  • Information on hexavalent chromium
  • Measured wind direction and wind speed at the school
  • Information about a potential nearby source of hexavalent chromium emissions

Analysis of Measured Hexavalent Chromium Concentrations:

1. Calculate the average: We calculated the average of the hexavalent chromium measurements (shown by the black diamond in the graph below). We compared this average to the long-term comparison levels (thick line on the graph below). 

Result: The average hexavalent chromium level for the samples collected was well below the long-term comparison levels.   The health concern is low.

2. Calculate a range: To account for varying air concentrations of hexavalent chromium, we calculated a range around the average. We did this by estimating high and low values that the longer-term concentrations might reach using common statistical tools. We compared the highest point in the range (called the “upper bound”) to the long-term comparison levels.

Result: The high end of the range is lower than the comparison levels. The health concern is low.


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Analysis of Measured Wind Direction and Wind Speed at the School

We took measurements of wind direction and speed every day during the sample period. We took special note of the wind speed and direction on the days we took measurements of hexavalent chromium.

What we looked at What we found
We looked at whether the wind data taken on the days we took measurements of hexavalent chromium are similar or different from the wind patterns during the entire sampling period. We found the wind patterns taken on the days we took measurements of hexavalent chromium to be generally similar to those observed during the sampling period.
We looked at whether the wind pattern during the sampling period is reflective of regional wind pattern over the long term. Although we lack long term wind data at the monitoring station, we concluded that wind patterns over the sampling period were generally similar to the long-term patterns for the region.

Analysis of Information on Nearby Source of Hexavalent Chromium Emissions

What we looked at What we found
Whether we could determine if the source was operating as usual during the sampling period. The nearby steel mill was operating at a rate of 13% during the sampling period, in comparison to its usual 18-20% capacity.
The concentrations of hexavalent chromium measured at the school are lower than those suggested by the information that helped identify this school for monitoring.
The nearby source of hexavalent chromium has an operating permit issued by the State of Pennsylvania that includes operating requirements. 

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Additional Information

Technical Report for School: Assessing Outdoor Air Near Schools: Riverside Elementary School (Reading, Pennsylvania) (PDF) (20pp, 130k). The technical report is geared toward risk assessors, risk managers, and other regulatory agencies. 

Background on School Monitoring Effort

General Questions and Answers for School Monitoring Effort

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