Poverty makes learning hard. Underfunded schools make it harder. And environmental pollution makes it even harder.
The scale at which these negative forces converge throughout the US education system is staggering, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Research.
After studying data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the US census, a team of researchers determined that out of more than 90,000 schools, only 728 had the highest possible air quality score, according to the Guardian.
The rest have room for improvement and a high percentage of schools are surrounded by air pollution so bad that it poses an immediate risk to students.
“This could well be impacting an entire generation of our society,” said Dr Sara Grineski, a lead author of the study told the Guardian.
The researchers found that pre-kindergarten students are more likely than older students to study in places of high air pollution, despite the increased risk to their developing brains.
Poor students are also more likely to go to schools with severe air pollution than wealthier peers, and black and hispanic students are far more likely than white students to suffer from this hazard.
The reason why so many schools struggle with this problem is because many of them were built on cheap plots of land close to industrial zones and roads, the Guardian reports.
The authors argue that few things better illustrate the chronic lack of funding for education in the US than the location and quality of school buildings.
It’s hard for students to learn when the air is filled with contaminants and the range of health problems that they face as a result include ADD, autism, and asthma. The researchers also suggest that the cognitive and emotional development of students can be impaired by pollution.
“Children are facing risks that will affect their ability to learn,” Stephen Lester, science director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, told the Guardian. “It’s a serious problem that needs a serious government response.”
Addressing this problem would involve relocating a great deal of schools, greatly limiting industrial pollution in cities, enacting stricter limits on car emissions, and more, according to the researchers.
The Trump administration has pursued a strategy of loosening regulations for polluters, so the environmental hazards impacting schools throughout the country may not receive the attention they deserve, the researchers argue.
But for the students living this reality, every day of polluted air takes a toll.
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