Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it will use American Rescue Plan Act funding to help schools retrofit their heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) systems to create cleaner air and neighborhood cooling refuges in vulnerable communities. EPA has selected the following the communities for this project:
- Pima County, Arizona
- Bay Area Air Quality Management District in the San Francisco Bay Area
- Multnomah County, Oregon
- Kittitas County, Washington
“This assistance will help schools keep their students safer every day with healthier air,” said PEA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “In addition, as we see increasing impacts from climate change, this approach can be a model for how other communities can create safe gathering places during dangerous heat waves and smoke events.”
The announcement comes at the launch of the White House Extreme Heat Interagency Working Group, which is co-chaired by EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. EPA will bring together partners, including public health agencies, community-based organizations, school districts, and emergency response experts, to focus on ensuring schools are safe places for students to learn and for neighbors to gather — especially during wildfire smoke and extreme heat events.
“When it comes to improving the quality of education for our incredible students and educational communities Pima County School Superintendent’s Office is all in! We look forward to partnering with Sunnyside Unified School District, Pima County Health Department, and EPA to make our schools healthier, safer places for students and the broader community,” said Dustin J. Williams, Pima County School Superintendent
EPA and its consultant team, which will include experts in community engagement, disaster policy, and HVAC engineering, will host workshops with local partners to create an action plan to retrofit the schools. The action plan, developed with community input, will include goals, such as:
- improving ventilation and filtration systems in public school facilities to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and other airborne illnesses.
- Creating healthy learning environments through improved indoor air quality in schools.
- Keeping schools open in the face of more frequent and severe extreme heat and wildfire smoke events.
- Establishing cleaner air shelters and cooling centers in areas known to have more residents susceptible to serious health impacts from extreme heat and wildfire smoke.
EPA’s assistance will be informed by community-based organizations in each location to ensure that the projects are centered on the vision of those who live and work in these communities, especially those whose voices have historically been underrepresented. This effort is part of EPA’s commitment to achieving environmental justice by elevating community efforts to address legacy injustices made worse by a changing climate and the COVID-19 pandemic.
This program is a partnership between EPA’s Office of Community Revitalization, Office of Air and Radiation, Office of Children’s Health Protection, Office of Research and Development, and Regions 9 and 10.
The projects are set to begin later this year. Visit the EPA site for more information about the four projects.