EPA to help schools in Oregon and Washington become Community Cleaner Air and Cooling Centers

Newsletters from Zone 10

Schools will receive technical assistance to create cleaner air and cooling shelters for neighborhoods in vulnerable communities affected by bushfire smoke and extreme heat events.

Seattle (November 1, 2021) – The US Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it will use US Rescue Plan Act funding to help schools modify heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) systems to create cleaner air and cooling shelters for neighborhoods in vulnerable communities. The Environmental Protection Agency has selected Multnomah County, Oregon, and Kititas County, Washington, to participate in Schools as a pilot program for community cooling and clean air centers.

“This assistance will help schools keep their students safer every day with healthier air,” Director Michael S. Reagan. “In addition, as we see increasing impacts from climate change, this approach could serve as 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 Interagency Working Group on Extreme Heat at the White House, which is co-chaired by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Department of Health and Human Services. The Environmental Protection Agency will bring together partners, including public health agencies, community organizations, school districts, and emergency response experts, to ensure that schools are safe places for children to learn and to gather for neighbors, especially during smoke from wildfires and extreme heat events.

The EPA and its advisory team, which will include experts in community engagement, disaster policy, and HVAC engineering, will host workshops with local partners to develop a school retrofit action plan. The action plan, developed with community input, will include objectives, such as:

  • Improve ventilation and filtration systems in public school facilities to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and other airborne diseases.
  • Create healthy learning environments by improving indoor air quality in schools.
  • Keeping schools open in the face of frequent heat and bushfire smoke.
  • Establish cleaner air shelters and cooling centers in areas known to have more residents exposed to serious health effects from extreme heat and smoke from wildfires.

EPA assistance will be communicated by community organizations at each location to ensure that projects are centered around the vision of those who live and work in these communities—particularly those whose voices have historically been underrepresented. This effort is part of the EPA’s commitment to achieving environmental justice by leveraging community efforts to address inherited grievances exacerbated by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

This program is a partnership between the EPA’s Office of Community Revitalization, the Office of Air and Radiation, the Children’s Health Protection Office, the Office of Research and Development, and Districts 9 and 10. The EPA also selected Pima County, Arizona, and the Bay Area Air Quality Department. District in the San Francisco Bay Area communities for this project.

The projects are scheduled to begin later this year. For more information on the projects, visit: https://www.epa.gov/arp/schools-community-cleaner-air-and-cooling-centers.

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EPA Zone 10 serves communities in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and 271 tribal states. Learn more about EPA’s work in the Pacific Northwest at: www.epa.gov/epa-region-10-pacific-northwest.

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