Kennett School District, Parents Respond to Toxic Schools Report

Kennett School District, Parents Respond to Toxic Schools Report
By: Crystal Britt

KENNETT, Mo. - Continuing coverage on the "USA Today" report we told you about Tuesday night on Heartland News at Five. It shows the air quality outside schools across the country could be toxic, some right here in the Heartland.

Heartland News went to Kennett, Missouri where the district and parents are reacting to the report. They're concerned with the accuracy of the report and the possibility the findings are really true.  An elementary school and the high school in Kennett ranked in the top percentile of schools in the nation for high toxic air levels outside the school buildings.
"I think any concerned parent would like to know what kind of environment their children are learning in," said Robin McClellan.
McClellan has two young boys in the Kennett School District, a district that has now made national news.
"It was concerning to hear in the report that Kennett was mentioned," said McClellan.
"We're having a hard time understanding why Kennett would be on a list," said superintendent Jerry Noble. "Of all the areas in Missouri...Kennett and some places around Springfield.  Why wouldn't St. Louis and Kansas City be on the list?" 
Heartland News contacted one of the reporters who worked the story with "USA Today."  He says they used a computer model to test thousands of schools across the country.  They then zeroed in on 95 that looked the worst.
Some Kennett schools made that list.  Heartland News is told that "USA Today" physically went to Kennett and conducted tests right off school property.  The results apparently showed a high concentration of chemicals in the air.
"I still have a problem understanding how our school would be any different than any other school," said Superintendent Noble. 
"My children are rarely sick. I've never had problems with air quality. I've lived here my entire life," said Malinda Harris. 
Harris has three children in the district. She too was surprised by the report.
"It's shocking. We don't have any huge industries here or anything that would contribute to it as you would think in a larger city," she said. 
Superintendent Noble says he contacted both the E.P.A. and Missouri D.N.R.
"I talked to a chemist there who told me they didn't really believe the report was valid, but they would check on it," said Noble. 
"If there is a problem, I trust our school will look into this and get to the bottom of it," said Harris.
"I have every confidence our local officials will figure this out, do their own investigating and let us know how to proceed," Robin McClellan said. 
"I'm skeptical there's anything to this, but we want to make sure," said Noble. 
One concern with the report...a local industry, Emerson Electric, which is down the road from Masterson Elementary, was listed as one of the main contributors to the pollutants. That company closed about three years ago.  USA Today says the preliminary reports are from EPA data dating back to 2005, so that's where the discrepancy comes in.
The superintendent sent home a newsletter with kids Wednesday letting parents know the district will not ignore this issue and will arrange for professional testing.