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Breathless: Schools, Air Toxics, and Environmental Justice in California

Abstract

Recent legislation on both federal and state levels has placed the intersection between children’s health and environmental justice on the forefront of public policy debate. This study looks at the intersection of air quality, children’s health, and school performance in the context of environmental equity in California. Information from the U.S. EPA’s National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) is used to calculate a respiratory hazard ratio for each of California’s census tracts. These ratios are then associated with a geo-coded database of the state's public schools, including school-level information on student demographics and the school's academic performance. We find that students of color are disproportionately located in schools with higher respiratory hazard ratios and also find a link between respiratory hazards and school performance, even after controlling for other factors that affect student performance. We conclude by recommending that state and community actors seek improvements in data collection, better filtration and ventilation in schools, the fuller incorporation of school-level health concerns, and the reduction of pollution at its various sources.

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