Environmental regulators will measure the air quality outside 62 schools in 22 states, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today, following news reports that questioned whether schools located in "toxic hotspots" near large industrial facilities and in urban areas were safe for kids.

“As a mother, I understand that concerned parents deserve this information as quickly as we can gather and analyze it,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement. (Jackson, 47, is the mother of two sons.) “EPA, state, and local officials are mobilizing to determine where elevated levels of toxics pose a threat, so that we can take swift action to protect our children at their schools.”

Authorities will periodically sample air near the schools over 60 days and use  the results to decide whether more monitoring or crackdowns are needed. The monitoring will begin within 90 days, Jackson said, and will include tracking of acetaldehyde (a liquid used to make acetic acid that can cause irritation of the eyes, skin and respiratory tract); diisocyanates (used in the auto industry and to make building insulation that can cause and exacerbate breathing problems including asthma); metals (which can cause damage to the brain and other organs); Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (produced from burning coal and fuel, PAHs have been linked to cancer and fertility problems); Volatile Organic Compounds (emitted by paint, pesticides and cleaning supplies, VOCs can cause cancer, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea and damage to the liver, kidney, and central nervous system); 4,4’-methylenedianiline (a chemical used to make insulation that may cause cancer and can cause skin irritation and liver damage); and Hexavalent Chromium (an ingredient in dyes, paints and plastics that can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, lungs and skin).

An investigation published in December by USA Today found that at least 435 schools around the country were located in areas where outdoor air was dirtier than the air surrounding an Ohio school closed four years ago after the EPA found that levels of cancer-causing chemicals there were 50 times higher than state standards. USA Today first reported on the EPA's move, which was sparked by the newspaper's investigation and the agency's own computer modeling, this morning. Click here for a list of the schools EPA will monitor.

Image © iStockphoto/Andy Medina