EPA air test at Colvin finds 'really no risk'

Preliminary results from air quality tests at Colvin Elementary School show that potentially harmful chemicals are well below levels of concern, environmental officials said Thursday.

"The numbers are very, very low," said David Bryan, spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency in Kansas City, Kan.

"The initial, short-term numbers show us that there is really no risk to anyone in that area" for hexavalent chromium, he said.

A rise in chromium levels at nearby industrial plants, including Spirit and Boeing, spurred air quality monitoring at the Wichita school. The EPA began monitoring the air around Colvin, 2820 S. Roosevelt, in August.

Data posted on the agency's Web site Thursday showed three readings for hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6. The first showed 0.005 nanograms per cubic meter; the second was "ND" for none detected; the third showed 0.0114 nanograms per cubic meter.

The "level at which we become concerned about health effects" for chromium is 580 nanograms per cubic meter, Bryan said.

Long-term exposure to hexavalent chromium can irritate the lungs and increase the risk of developing lung cancer.

On Thursday, EPA scientists warned against drawing conclusions at this point as the study is designed to determine whether long-term, not short-term, exposure poses health concerns for school children and staff. Colvin is one of 62 schools across the nation — the only one in Kansas — targeted for air quality monitoring.

Outdoor air at each of the schools is being monitored for 60 days, and air-quality monitors will take a minimum of 10 daily samples during the sampling period. The EPA will use the information gathered in the initiative to help determine next steps.

Wichita school officials welcomed the preliminary findings Thursday.

"This is positive news that we have been anticipating," said Tim Phares, environmental services supervisor for the school district.

"I think there'll be a collective sigh of relief from the community in and around Colvin that this is not something that is going to cause fear and concern."