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Local air quality cited in national study

Friday, May 29, 2009

Air samples in Monett were cited in a national study released last week. USA Today, in its May 20 issue, reported on environmental concerns due to the chemical carbon tetrachloride and included Monett in its sample on the effects of industry in towns.

Air samples were taken for a week last fall outside of Monett High School, according to the published study. No notification was given to the Monett R-1 School District, said Superintendent Dr. John Jungmann. Similar samples were taken outside of 95 schools in 30 states.

Analysis of the samples was done by the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Findings showed traces of the chemical carbon tetrachloride in the air.

Once considered a wonder substance for dry cleaning and a wide range of industrial uses, "carbon tet" as it is commonly known, was discovered to be a carcinogen and went off the market. Its use was banned internationally under the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, which began being enforced on Jan. 1, 1989.

According to experts cited by the newspaper's study, carbon tet does not dissipate in the atmosphere. According to Kenneth Mitchell, head of the air toxics program for one of the Environmental Protection Agency's regional offices, the chemical can remain in the air for up to 50 years.

Jungmann learned of the study when contacted by concerned patrons. From his review of the data, Jungmann said the chemical has no connection to Monett High School. "It's not produced or expelled at schools," Jungmann said. "It's referred to as a global pollutant. It showed up outside of three out of four schools tested."

The Times has confirmed at least one industry in Monett used carbon tet as a solvent in its regular production during the 1970s and 1980s.

Citing the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, Jungmann said use of carbon tet has dropped from 3.5 million pounds emitted into the air in 1989, compared to 165,000 pounds in 2007, the last year of record. The danger to students was no greater than to any other resident in town, he said.

According to the study, the amounts of carbon tet measured in Monett could cause 70 additional cancer cases per 1 million people over a lifetime of exposure.

"What that means in a town of 10,000 is anyone's guess," Jungmann said. "We're just hoping it dissipates here like everywhere else."

Other Missouri schools listed as having carbon tet levels of measurable concern included Williams Elementary School in Springfield, the senior high school in Jackson and the H. Byron Masterson Elementary School in Kennett.



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