By Celine Klosterman
KEOKUK — The Keokuk Catholic School Board will allow the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to install an air monitor on school grounds.
At its March meeting, the board voted to permit the monitor’s placement at a location other than the school’s roof, where the DNR had sought to put it. School Board President Bob Morgan said the board was concerned about the liability of having someone climbing the roof to change air filters every six days for a year.
The DNR asked to monitor air at Keokuk Catholic School following a 2008 USA Today report indicating the school building was among U.S. schools potentially exposed to high levels of air toxins. USA Today used an Environmental Protection Agency model (EPA) to track industrial pollution and identified manganese as making up 97 percent of toxicity outside the building.
DNR computer modeling of emissions from Amsted Rail, about a mile from Keokuk Catholic School, estimated manganese levels near the school are at 73 percent of the EPA threshold of 0.05 micrograms per cubic meter.
Because of safety factors used in the modeling, actual manganese levels may be lower, Mike Hausch said. A retired employee in environmental compliance for Dial Corporation in Fort Madison and grandfather of three children at Keokuk Catholic School, he encouraged the school to allow the monitor.
Morgan, father of a 5-year-old daughter in kindergarten at the school, said the board isn’t very concerned about toxicity, but is allowing the monitor as a precaution.
The DNR hopes air monitoring will begin this spring. But the school’s proposed location must be evaluated first, said Brian Hutchins, DNR supervisor of compliance and ambient air monitoring. Morgan said the school suggested a fenced-in area behind a garage.
He said the school’s janitor will change the monitor’s filters, which will be sent to the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory. The DNR will reimburse Keokuk Catholic School for the cost of labor and electricity used in maintaining the air monitor.
Eating a small amount of manganese daily is important to stay healthy. But breathing high levels of it over long periods of time can harm brain development, resulting in behavior changes and decreased ability to learn and remember.