When parents send their kids off to school, they might worry their child forgot their homework or won’t eat enough lunch. Air quality isn’t usually among their worries. But a joint investigation from The Center for Public Integrity and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting shows almost 8,000 public schools in the United States are located within 500 feet of highways or roads – that’s one in 11 schools. As vehicles travel those roads, they spew pollutants that may seriously impact children’s health.

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Around 4.4 million students across all 50 states attend the nearly 8,000 public schools threatened with toxic air – and that’s not even counting private schools and Head Start centers. Many parents and teachers aren’t even aware of the issue, according to the joint investigation, since air pollution isn’t always visible.

Related: WHO finds 92% of the world’s population exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution

But health issues stemming from air pollution could harm children for a lifetime. According to the joint investigation, pollution near highways can lead to stunted lung growth and asthma attacks. It can increase the risk of cancer or play a role in heart disease. Pollution coming from tailpipes could hinder a child’s ability to learn and even contribute to brain maladies typically found in the elderly.

New York University School of Medicine professor George Thurston said, “The expectation of every parent is that they’re sending their child to a safe environment. And with this kind of pollution, they’re not.”

As part of the article on the investigation, The Center for Public Integrity included a tool so you can see if your child’s school is close to a road on which 30,000 vehicles or 10,000 vehicles and 500 trucks pass on an average day. What can you do if your child’s school is near such a highway? Parents at El Marino Language School located near Interstate 405 in a Los Angeles suburb pushed for high-grade air filters and pollution-trapping plants. A test run of the filters found they snagged over 90 percent of the unhealthy particles inside.

Via The Center for Public Integrity

Images via screenshot and Matthias Ripp on Flickr