KSL Investigates: Which new schools may be putting students in ‘smog zone’

Apr 2, 2018, 10:00 PM | Updated: 11:34 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah is known for having some of the worst air in the country at times, and that bad air can be especially bad for kids.

For the past seven years, the Environmental Protection Agency has warned schools nationwide about the dangers of building near busy roads. How many new schools in Utah have been built since then? KSL investigated local schools located in areas that could be putting kids’ health at risk.

Traffic is one of the most known sources of air pollution both inside and outside of schools. It’s a fact that Cherise Udell is very aware of. She’s the president of Utah Moms for Clean Air.

“Air pollution has actually been shown to diminish IQ,” said Udell. “Why would you want to put a school, the minute (students) walk in the door, they’re already impaired?”

Many studies show pollution is higher near busy roads and can harm a child’s ability to learn. But research also suggests what is spewed out of tailpipes can also stunt lung growth, trigger asthma attacks, contribute to heart disease and raise the risk of cancer.

Recognizing the risks, California banned new school construction within 500 feet of major roads in 2003.  It’s the only state in the country to do so.

“California is always on the forefront of environmental concerns and usually the rest of the nation ends up following suit,” said Udell. “So I imagine Utah will eventually do the same thing.”

The EPA hasn’t gone that far. However, it has warned school districts about traffic pollution impacts since at least 2011 and recommends that schools think carefully before building near major roads.

Mark Peterson with the Utah State Board of Education says schools do consider pollution when choosing a location to build.

“Air quality is one of the considerations and it is one specifically laid out in our construction manual that you will check with both the EPA and local health officials,” said Peterson.

But, there isn’t a law that says schools can’t be built near a major road, even though the EPA suggests school officials think carefully first.

With that in mind, KSL wanted to find out how many new schools were built near major roads even after the EPA’s recommendations.

KSL looked at three criteria:

  1. Schools built within the last 5 years
  2. Schools built within 500 feet of a busy road
  3. “Busy” defined as an average of 30,000 vehicles a day or 10,000 vehicles a day with at least 500 trucks

KSL collected data from the school board, analyzed traffic counts from the Utah Department of Transportation and visited more than a dozen schools to see if they fit the criteria. Eventually, we narrowed our list to six schools in Utah, all built in the last five years and all very near busy roads.

All turned out to be charter schools.

  1. Treeside Charter School in Provo
  2. Wallace Stegner Academy in Salt Lake City
  3. American International School of Utah in Murray
  4. Itineris Early College High School in West Jordan
  5. Providence Hall High School in Herriman
  6. GreenWood Charter School in Harrisville

Royce Van Tassell leads the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. He says a big hurdle is what space is available.

“This is a challenge that every school faces,” said Van Tassell. “Charter schools are no different than any others.”

Van Tassell also says charter schools take the EPA’s guidelines into consideration but, “there is an element of what the ideal looks like and what is actually possible,” said Van Tassell. “There are only so many sites in a given city, for example, that are large enough to accommodate a school.”

Van Tassell says charter schools meet the same standards as district schools. But Peterson says there’s one difference.

“A district school can be zoned out of an area, but the legislature several years ago carved out an exception for charter schools that they are allowed in any zoning,” said Peterson.

Although the exception gives charter schools more options to build, Van Tassell says charter schools are doing what they can to ensure their students have the best environment for learning

“Every school is managing the risks,” said Van Tassell. “The health and safety is a critical part of every child’s education and schools, whether they’re district or charter, are working to make sure that students are getting the best education possible.”

KSL reached out to the cities where those six charter schools are located. Five out of the six are built where public schools could also be built.  The only exception was Wallace Stegner Academy in Salt Lake City. It’s located in a “light manufacturing” zone where public schools are not allowed.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories


(University of Utah)...
Eliza Pace, KSL TV

New U of U housing groundbreaking in collaboration with Ivory Foundation and local church

Friday marked the groundbreaking of new housing for thousands of students in a collaboration between the Clark and Christine Ivory Trust, the University of Utah, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
3 days ago
Utah Tech logos are available for download as part of the rebrand of Dixie State University. (Utah ...
Cary J. Schwanitz, KSL TV

Dixie State unveils new logos for Utah Tech University rename

With Dixie State University preparing to take on its new name as Utah Tech this summer, the school unveiled its official logos for the new name.
4 days ago
A series of buttons can alert the USU campus of an emergency. (KSL TV)...
Mike Anderson, KSL TV

USU tests locking down campus with just a push of a button

Utah State University tested its ability to respond to an active shooter on campus with the push of a button this week. It’s a new technology that can lock down the campus from a remote location.
7 days ago
Michael Houck, KSL TV

Utah teacher resigns after video describing students’ conversations on sexual identity

"My kids from last year are now in fifth grade and they come to visit me almost every day after school," Hall said in the video. "And a lot of them are queer, because I am queer, and they figured it out, so I’ve become their safe space."
10 days ago
FILE PHOTO of workers (Adobe)...
Matt Gephardt, KSL TV

4-day workweek gaining momentum; why employers are smitten with idea

SALT LAKE CITY — While it may sound like the beginning of the end for a company, that work-life balance has some companies saying they wish they had made the switch to a four-day workweek a long time ago. Bosses have tried increasing pay, increasing benefits and increasing flexibility with work-from-home opportunities. But none of […]
14 days ago
FILE: Westminster College in Salt Lake City (Chelsey Allder, Deseret News)...
Michael Houck and Morgan Wolfe, KSL TV

Westminster College gets attention on social media for porn film class

A private Utah college is getting some attention after social media found out about its credited porn course with most posts viewing this course negatively.
29 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Earth day 2022...

How Are You Celebrating Earth Day 2022? | 4 Simple Ways to Celebrate Earth Day and Protect the Environment

Earth Day is a great time to reflect on how we can be more environmentally conscious. Here are some tips for celebrating Earth Day.
Get Money Online...

More Ways to Get Money Online Right Now in Your Spare Time

Here are 4 easy ways that you can get more money online if you have some free time and want to make a little extra on the side.
Lighting trends 2022...

Lighting Trends 2022 | 5 Beautiful Home Lighting Trends You Can Expect to See this Year and Beyond

This is where you can see the latest lighting trends for 2022 straight from the Lightovation Show at the Dallas World Trade Center.
What Can't You Throw Away in the Trash...

What Can’t You Throw Away in the Trash? | 5 Things You Shouldn’t Throw in to Your Trash Can

What can't you throw away in the trash? Believe it or not, there are actually many items that shouldn't be thrown straight into the trash.
Make Money Online Easily...

4 Ways that You Can Make Money Online Easily in Just a Few Clicks

Here are 4 ways that you can make money online easily in no time at all! Some are as simple as just a few clicks away.
tips to winterize your home...
Bonneville Digital SLC

Tips to Winterize Your Home | The Top 5 Ways You Can Prepare for the Cold Utah Winter Ahead

Before the snow hits, here are the top 5 tips to winterize your home to prepare for the cold Utah winter this year.
KSL Investigates: Which new schools may be putting students in ‘smog zone’