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

Schools will receive technical assistance to create cleaner air and neighborhood cooling refuges in vulnerable communities impacted by wildfire smoke and extreme heat events

November 1, 2021

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SEATTLE (Nov. 1, 2021) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it will use American Rescue Plan Act funding to help schools retrofit their heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) systems to create cleaner air and neighborhood cooling refuges in vulnerable communities. EPA has selected Multnomah County in Oregon and Kittitas County in Washington to participate in the Schools as Community Cleaner Air and Cooling Centers pilot program.

“This assistance will help schools keep their students safer every day with healthier air,” said Administrator Michael S. Regan. “In addition, as we see increasing impacts from climate change, this approach can be 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 White House Extreme Heat Interagency Working Group, which is co-chaired by EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. EPA will bring together partners, including public health agencies, community-based organizations, school districts, and emergency response experts, to ensure schools are safe places for kids to learn and for neighbors to gather, especially during wildfire smoke and extreme heat events.

EPA and its consultant team, which will include experts in community engagement, disaster policy, and HVAC engineering, will host workshops with local partners to create an action plan to retrofit the schools. The action plan, developed with community input, will include goals, such as:

  • Improving ventilation and filtration systems in public school facilities to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and other airborne illnesses.  
  • Creating healthy learning environments through improved indoor air quality in schools. 
  • Keeping schools open in the face of more frequent and severe extreme heat and wildfire smoke events. 
  • Establishing cleaner air shelters and cooling centers in areas known to have more residents susceptible to serious health impacts from extreme heat and wildfire smoke. 

EPA’s assistance will be informed by community-based organizations in each location to ensure that the projects are centered on the vision of those who live and work in these communities—especially those whose voices have historically been underrepresented. This effort is part of EPA’s commitment to achieving environmental justice by elevating community efforts to address legacy injustices made worse by a changing climate and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

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

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

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