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The South Allegheny School District, located downwind from U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works, has asked the Allegheny County Board of Health to help fund the installation of air filtration systems at two of the district's schools in Liberty. According to documents submitted with the funding request, the district's schoolchildren have asthma rates 300 percent to 400 percent higher than national rates. The facility is located about 20 miles south of Pittsburgh in Clairton, Pennsylvania.

School officials asked the health board to appropriate money from the county's Clean Air Fund, which has a balance of about $10 million that has been collected from companies as a result of air pollution violations. The air filtration systems for 650 students and 200 faculty at the combination high school/middle school and at an Early Childhood Center attended by 80 students in pre-kindergarten through first grade would cost a total of $9.2 million, school district officials said.

In addition to the increased asthma rates among students, recent tests by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that elevated concentrations of benzene, a known carcinogen, were present in the schools.

South Allegheny is located in the county's hot spot for air pollution. The Health Department's air pollution monitor for the Liberty-Clairton area is located on the roof of South Allegheny High School and regularly registers the highest airborne particle readings in the county.

A $1 billion reconstruction and equipment upgrade at U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works is under way and is expected to result in significant air pollution reductions, but not until 2013 or 2014. The school district can't wait and has contacted area foundations, including the Heinz Foundation, for help in funding the new air filtration systems.

A similar air filtration system was installed at the district's elementary school. It cost about $10 million and was funded through a bond issue.

The Health Department has indicated that while there is enough money in the Clean Air Fund to finance the filtration systems, the money also is needed for other projects and programs. (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 12/14/2011)