Can Students Breathe Next To A Highway?

by Georgia Kral | June 12, 2007 12:09 PM | | Comments (7)

mador.JPGSome Wooster Square neighbors aren’t convinced that a new school next to a triple-highway intersection can be a safe place for kids to breathe the air — even if, as planned, the windows stay shut and sealed.

Those concerns arose at a neighborhood meeting Monday night about the proposed new home of the Metropolitan Business Academy, a magnet high school that will move into a brand new building where 111-113 and 119 Water Street are currently located. (Click here and here for previous stories on the plans.)

The discussion focused on air quality and health concerns for the students as well as for the citizens who live in the neighborhood.

“This is in no way, shape or form a site where you want to put a school,” said Martin Mador, a researcher at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and the legislative and political chairman of the Connecticut Sierra Club (pictured).

The site is located right by Route 34 and the intersection of Interstates 91 and 95, a high-volume traffic location. Three different “experts” testified to the polluted air that results from the traffic on those roads, especially considering the construction of the Q-Bridge and adjoining roads will continue until at least the year 2016.

The SLAM Collaborative architecture firm gave a presentation on the site and building layout, the floor plans and the energy saving systems the school will utilize. The building will incorporate “green” building features such as roof insulation, high efficiency lighting and perhaps solar power. Students will be kept inside a controlled environment with no access to the outdoors or nature: the plan thus far uses windows that cannot be opened.

“We want to keep control over air quality,” said Kemp A. Morhardt, from SLAM.

brown.JPGThe plan is to use a ventilation system which uses filters to rid the air of diesel particulates, which pollute and cause respiratory diseases. Particulates from diesel engines are high in the area of the school, according to a study by Connecticut Fund for the Environment. David R. Brown, pictured, is a toxicologist who helped conduct that study. He presented the findings at the meeting.

A diesel hot spot is a place where particulate levels are concentrated, explained Brown. Those who are subjected to the particulates are more likely to have asthma, chronic obstructive pulminary disease, bronchitus and heart attacks.

Diesel hot spots are generally in areas with a lot of traffic, particularly idling traffic, and where construction is taking place. The school’s site is in close proximity to a major highway intersection and construction that will last at least another decade. The air is so bad that the architects have a plan in place to deal with it.

The proposed ventilation system and the idea to keep the windows closed and sealed deal with the issue of polluted air harming the children, say the architects.

“The filtration system will have a greater level of filtration than is required by LEED,” said Jim Dolan, a mechanical engineer working on the project. LEED, Leadership and Energy in Environmental Design, is a nationally recognized “green” rating system.

farwell.JPGAccording to Anstress Farwell (pictured), the president of New Haven Urban Design League, the filtration system and closed windows make the project unacceptable. Farwell said a connection with the community is necessary and that creating a closed school will not foster that connection.

“Closing off the school from the environment due to hazards makes an isolated community,” she said.

Mador agreed. He said people need a connection with the natural world. The school has no outdoor recreation space and “no grass and no soil,” he said.

“The most important characteristics of a school are to provide a safe and healthy experience for children.”

He called the school a fortress and “not a sustainable act.”

Those in attendance, mainly neighborhood residents, asked why nothing had been done or discussed about air quality before. Mona Berman, from New Haven Citizen’s Action Network said they had brought these issues before the Board of Education in the fall.

“At that time there were other sites and we asked that the Board of Ed. look at those sites and it took a short time for them to come back and say ‘sorry,’ ” she said. “That’s how things function in New Haven. We’re always too late, no matter how early we are.”

Other concerns raised at the meeting include safety, noise and traffic and lack of community involvement.

A security divider, or “buffer,” will be erected, dividing the site from Columbus Mall, a housing development adjacent to the site.

Susan Weisselberg, the school construction coordinator, said that the Board of Ed is happy to work with the community on the project. It has already been established that the fitness center in the school would be open to the community and the lecture hall and media center may be as well.

If the schoolwide building committee approves the project in July, then it will move into design development and finally construction. Demolition of the existing buildings on the site is slated to begin at the end of the calendar year, with new construction starting in the Spring.

Brown said the discussion about air quality should be used as an impetus for the community to reach out to their elected officials and the Department of Transportation. “It has to be a serious debate,” he said. “These health risks are not theoretical, they will occur. You will have heart attacks.”







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Comments

Posted by: B. Ron Chitus | June 13, 2007 7:17 AM

Don't know the pro's and con's of the other sites that were considered for this school but Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health Inc., wrote the June 15th '06 NH Register article stating that HEALTHWISE, schools should never be located near highways due to the harmful effects of vehicle exhaust.

She reported that "Many studies have shown that children who are exposed to vehicle exhaust near motorways have reduced lung function and many of them develop asthma."

"Environment and Human Health, Inc., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting human health from environmental harms through research, education and the promotion of sound public policy. Environment and Human Health, Inc. is made up of doctors, public health professionals and policy experts committed to the reduction of environmental health risks to individuals."

Besides the issue of relying on a mechanical air filtration system that can fail and may require extra maintenance to operate effectively/safely, what about outdoor rec. area for this school? Is driving to play for another school's team really a tenable solution?

One of the previous Independent articles on this school site,http://www.newhavenindependent.org/archives/2006/12/just_dont_open.php, mentioned "There will be no operable windows. And intake valves for filtration systems will be placed out of the path of winds blowing diesel from the highway and port;" Does air intake valve location really make that much of a difference?

Also, are inoperable, "closed and sealed" windows really safe in terms of emergency escape/rescue, fire or otherwise?

In addition to the concept of not locating schools near highways, here's Environment and Human Health Inc's report titled "The Harmful Effects of Vehicle Exhaust - A Case for Policy Change":
http://www.ehhi.org/reports/exhaust/recommendations.htm

Posted by: Brian Kasher | June 13, 2007 7:28 AM

There are good points being made here...science goes beyond what the story suggests as the problem. Are these people quacks or are they just looking out for thier kids?

One point to consider is that the children's bodies are still developing (inside and out) and they are compelled to be in school. Whereas, a full grown adult driving a semi is driving the semi by choice and is out of the physical development stage. Children also breath about 400% more air by weight than adults. So if the community is using standards developed to protect full grown adults in the workplace as a metric for the children, they are underestimating the potential for harm to the children.

Posted by: DAFeder | June 13, 2007 9:23 AM

Well, the upside is, kids playing hooky will not have to hide behind the building and smoke cigarettes -- they'll just have to hide behind the building and breathe deeply. Think of the savings.

I'd play a little hooky myself, if I were at the peak of my curiosity and restlessness and I were subjected to the soul-crushing claustrophobia of a hermetically-sealed, processed-air environment.

And the presence of a housing development on the same site is supposed to, what, reassure us? I hope the residents get a lot of good information on the Husky children's health insurance program.

David

P.S. How about a district-wide policy that school buses not be allowed to keep their engines running while waiting for students? The diesel impact on my street is miserable.

Posted by: Carole | June 13, 2007 4:33 PM

DAFeder asks: "How about a district-wide policy that school buses not be allowed to keep their engines running while waiting for students?"

In fact, state law prohibits school buses from idling for more than 3 minutes (with a few exceptions, such as when it's below 20 degrees outside). You can read the law here. Feel free to remind bus drivers!

Posted by: Fair Haven Resident | June 22, 2007 6:21 PM

Schools should not be located in diesel hot zones. Period. No one seemed to raise this when, in 1995, High School in the Community was moved to a cheaply renovated building only two blocks away on Water St. The air quality in that building is quite poor! Also, what about the traffic impact (pedestrian and motor vehicle) of having two of the city's public high schools on the same street?

Posted by: Sara Ohly | July 9, 2007 12:12 PM

I was on the Neighborhood Committee, raised this issue at the first meeting, and passed around Nancy Alderman's article on schools in Diesel Hot Zones. When I was told that this was the site and that it could not be changed, I resigned from the committee and contacted Environmental Justice. I would not send my child to a school in this location, and I would not want any other parent to send their child. The program sounds interesting ; it needs to be in a safe, healthy location.

Posted by: Sara Ohly | July 9, 2007 12:13 PM

I was on the Neighborhood Committee, raised this issue at the first meeting, and passed around Nancy Alderman's article on schools in Diesel Hot Zones. When I was told that this was the site and that it could not be changed, I resigned from the committee and contacted Environmental Justice. I would not send my child to a school in this location, and I would not want any other parent to send their child. The program sounds interesting ; it needs to be in a safe, healthy location.

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