Population and Environment

, Volume 37, Issue 3, pp 319–340 | Cite as

Residential exposure to air toxics is linked to lower grade point averages among school children in El Paso, Texas, USA

  • Stephanie E. Clark-Reyna
  • Sara E. GrineskiEmail author
  • Timothy W. Collins
Original Paper


Children in low-income neighborhoods tend to be disproportionately exposed to environmental toxicants. This is cause for concern because exposure to environmental toxicants negatively affects health, which can impair academic success. To date, it is unknown if associations between air toxics and academic performance found in previous school-level studies persist when studying individual children. In pairing the National Air Toxics Assessment risk estimates for respiratory and diesel particulate matter risk disaggregated by source, with individual-level data collected through a mail survey, this paper examines the effects of exposure to residential environmental toxics on academic performance for individual children for the first time and adjusts for school-level effects using generalized estimating equations. We find that higher levels of residential air toxics, especially those from non-road mobile sources, are statistically significantly associated with lower grade point averages among fourth- and fifth-grade school children in El Paso (Texas, USA).


Environmental justice Children Academic performance National Air Toxics Assessment El Paso, Texas, USA 



We recognize assistance from Marilyn Montgomery, who prepared the block-level NATA data for us. We thank Bibi Mancera and Zuleika Ramirez at the Hispanic Health Disparities Center and the staff at the Campus Post Office for their assistance in carrying out the survey. The research participants are also gratefully recognized for taking the time to complete the survey. The work of student research assistants Anthony Jimenez, Marie Gaines, Paola Chavez-Payan, and Young-an Kim is gratefully recognized.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This work was jointly supported by the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) and the US Environmental Protection Agency [Award Number P20 MD002287-05S1]. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIMHD or the EPA.


  1. ACT. (2008). The forgotten middle: Ensuring that all students are on track for college and career readiness before high school.
  2. American Community Survey. (2011). 2007–2011 5-year estimates. Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census.
  3. American Lung Association. (2014). State of the air.
  4. Bali, V. A., & Alvarez, M. R. (2003). Schools and educational outcomes: What causes the ‘‘race gap’’ in student test scores? Social Science Quarterly, 84(3), 485–507.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Basile, C., Gustafsson, S., Jerrett, M., Kristersson, H., Lithman, T., Boalt, A., & Merlo, J. (2006). Children’s exposure to nitrogen dioxide in Sweden: Investigating environmental injustice in an egalitarian country. Journal of Epidemiology Community Health, 60(3), 234–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belleudi, V., Faustini, A., Stafoggia, M., Marconi, A., Perucci, C. A., & Foraestiere, F. (2010). Impact of fine and ultrafine particles on emergency hospital admissions for cardiac and respiratory diseases. Epidemiology, 21(3), 414–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bender, R., & Lange, S. (2001). Adjusting for multiple testing—When and how? Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 54, 343–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bertoldi, M., Borgini, A., Tittarelli, A., Factor, E., Cau, A., Fanelli, R., & Crosignani, P. (2012). Health effects for the population living near a cement plant: An epidemiological assessment. Environment International, 41, 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brady, D. (2003). Rethinking the sociological measurement of poverty. Social Forces, 81(3), 715–752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown, P. (1995). Race, class, and environmental health: A review and systemization of the literature. Environmental Research, 69, 15–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brugha, R., & Grigg, J. (2014). Urban air pollution and respiratory infections. Paediatric Respiratory Reviews, 15(2), 194–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brulle, R. J., & Pellow, D. N. (2006). Environmental justice: Human health and environmental inequalities. Annual Review of Public Health, 27, 103–124. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.27.021405.102124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Case, A., Fertig, A., & Paxson, C. (2005). The lasting impact of childhood health and circumstance. Journal of Health Economics, 24, 365–389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chakraborty, J. (2009). Automobiles, air toxics, and adverse health risks: Environmental inequities in Tampa Bay, Florida. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 99(4), 674–697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chakraborty, J., & Zandbergen, P. A. (2007). Children at risk: Measuring racial/ethnic disparities in potential exposure to air pollution at school and home. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 61(12), 1074–1079.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Collins, T. W., Grineski, S. E., Chakraborty, J., & McDonald, Y. J. (2011). Understanding environmental health inequalities through comparative intracategorical analysis: Racial/ethnic disparities in cancer risks from air toxics in El Paso County, Texas. Health & Place, 17(1), 335–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Currie, J., Hanushek, E., Kahn, M., Neidell, M., & Rivkin, S. (2009). Does pollution increase school absences? Review of Economics and Statistics, 91(4), 682–694.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Curtin, R., Presser, S., & Singer, E. (2000). The effects of response rate changes on the index of consumer sentiment. Public Opinion Quarterly, 64(4), 413–428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Diez Roux, A. V. (2002). A glossary for multilevel analysis. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 56, 588–594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Diggle, P. J., Heagerty, P., Liang, K. Y., & Zeger, S. L. (2002). Longitudinal data analysis (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Diggle, P., Liang, K., & Zeger, S. (1994). Analysis of longitudinal data. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Dillman, D. A., Smyth, J. D., & Christian, L. M. (2009). Internet, mail, and mixed-mode surveys: The tailored design method (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  23. Duncan, G. J., & Magnuson, K. A. (2005). Can family socioeconomic resources account for racial and ethnic test score gaps. The Future of Children, 15(1), 35–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. El Paso International Airport. (2013). Operation statistics: Year 2013 statistics.
  25. Enders, C. K. (2010). Applied missing data analysis. New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  26. Environmental Protection Agency. (2011a). An overview of methods for EPA’s national air toxics assessment.
  27. Environmental Protection Agency. (2011b). NATA glossary of key terms.
  28. Environmental Protection Agency. (2013a). Glossary of terms.
  29. Environmental Protection Agency. (2013b) National air toxics assessments.
  30. Environmental Protection Agency. (2014). Diesel particulate matter.
  31. EPISD: Enrollment Statistics, 2011–2012.
  32. Fisher, C. B., Wallace, S. A., & Fenton, R. E. (2000). Discrimination distress during adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 29(6), 679–695.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Garson, G. (2012). Generalized linear models and generalized estimating equations. Asheboro, NC: Statistical Associates Publishing.Google Scholar
  34. Gordon, M., & Dorling, D. (2003). An environmental justice analysis of British air quality. Environment and Planning A, 35(5), 909–929.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Grineski, S. E., & Collins, T. W. (2008). Exploring Environmental injustice in the Global South: Maquiladoras in Ciudad Juárez. Population and Environment, 29(6), 147–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grineski, S. E., Collins, T. W., Chakraborty, J., & McDonald, Y. J. (2013). Environmental health justice: Exposure to air toxics and children’s respiratory hospital admissions. The Professional Geographer, 65(1), 31–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Grineski, S. E., Collins, T. W., Chavez-Payan, P., Jimenez, A., Kim, Y., Gaines, M., & Clark-Reyna, S. (2014). Social disparities in children’s respiratory health in El Paso, Texas. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11, 2941–2957.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Grineski, S. E., Staniswalis, J. G., Peng, Y., & Atkinson-Palombo, C. (2010). Children’s asthma hospitalizations and relative risk due to nitrogen dioxide (NO2): Effect modification by race, ethnicity and insurance status. Environmental Research, 110, 178–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Groves, R., & Peytcheva, E. (2008). The impact of nonresponse rates on nonresponse bias: A meta-analysis. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72(2), 167–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Guxens, M., & Sunyer, J. (2012). A review of epidemiological studies on neuropsychological effects of air pollution. Swiss Med Wkly. doi: 10.4414/smw.2012.13322.Google Scholar
  41. Habre, R., Moshier, E., Castro, W., Nath, A., Grunin, A., Rohr, A., et al. (2014). The effects of PM2.5 and its components from indoor and outdoor sources on cough and wheeze symptoms in asthmatic children. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, 24(4), 380–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Holbrook, A., et al. (2008). The causes and consequences of response rates in surveys by the news media and government contractor survey research. In J. M. Lepkowski, N. C. Tucker, J. M. Brick, E. D. DeLeeuw, L. Japec, P. J. Lavrakas, M. W. Link, & R. L. Sangster (Eds.), Advances in telephone survey methodology (pp. 499–528). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  43. Hudda, N., Gould, T., Hartin, K., Larson, T. V., & Fruin, S. A. (2014). Emissions from an international airport increase particle number concentrations 4-fold at 10 km downwind. Environmental Science and Technology, 48(12), 6628–6635. doi: 10.1021/es5001566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Institute of Medicine Committee on Environmental Justice. (1999). Toward environmental justice: Research, education, and health policy needs. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  45. Kao, G., & Thompson, J. S. (2003). Racial and ethnic stratification in educational achievement and attainment. Annual Review of Sociology, 29, 417–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Keeter, S., Kennedy, C., Dimock, M., Best, J., & Craighill, P. (2006). Gauging the impact of growing non response on estimates from a national RDD telephone survey. Public Opinion Quarterly, 70(5), 759–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Liang, K. Y., & Zeger, S. L. (1986). Longitudinal data analysis using generalized linear models. Biometrika, 73, 13–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Linder, S. H., Marko, D., & Sexton, K. (2008). Cumulative cancer risk from air pollution in Houston: Disparities in risk burden and social disadvantage. Environmental Science and Technology, 42(12), 4312–4322. doi: 10.1021/es072042u.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lucier, C., Rosofsky, A., London, B., Scharber, H., & Shandra, J. (2011). Toxic pollution and school performance scores: Environmental Ascription in East Baton Rouge Parish. Louisiana: Organization & Environment. doi: 10.1177/1086026611430853.Google Scholar
  50. Lupo, P., Symanski, E., Waller, D., Chan, W., Langlois, P., Canfield, M., & Mitchell, L. (2011). Maternal exposure to ambient levels of benzene and neural tube defects among offspring: Texas, 1999–2004. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(3), 397–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Magnuson, K. (2007). Maternal education and children’s academic achievement during middle childhood. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1497–1512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Marshall, J. D., Swor, K. R., & Nguyen, N. P. (2014). Prioritizing environmental justice and equality: Diesel emissions in Southern California. Environmental Science and Technology, 48(7), 4063–4068. doi: 10.1021/es405167f.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. McCarthy, M. C., O’Brien, T. E., Charrier, J. G., & Hafner, H. R. (2009). Characterization of the chronic risk and hazard of hazardous air pollutants in the United States using ambient monitoring data. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117, 790–796. doi: 10.1289/ehp.11861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Mohai, P., Kweon, B., Lee, S., & Ard, K. (2011). Air pollution around schools is linked to poorer student health and academic performance. Health Affairs, 30(5), 852–862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Mohai, P., Lantz, P. M., Morenoff, J., House, J. S., & Mero, R. P. (2009a). Racial and socioeconomic disparities in residential proximity to polluting industrial facilities: Evidence from the Americans’ Changing Lives Study. American Journal of Public Health, 99, S649–S656.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mohai, P., Pellow, D., & Timmons Roberts, J. (2009b). Environmental justice. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 34, 405–430.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Morello-Frosch, R., Zuk, M., Jerrett, M., Shamasunder, B., & Kyle, A. D. (2011). Understanding the cumulative impacts of inequalities in environmental health: Implications for policy. Health Affair, 30(5), 879–887.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Nelder, J. A., & Wedderburn, R. W. M. (1972). Generalized linear models. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society. Series B, 135, 370–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ostro, B., Roth, L., Malig, B., & Marty, M. (2009). The effects of fine particle components on respiratory hospital admissions in children. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(3), 475–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pastor, M., Sadd, J., & Morello-Frosch, R. (2004). Reading, writing, and toxics: Children’s health, academic performance, and environmental justice in Los Angeles. Environment and Planning C, 22, 271–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Pastor, M., Sadd, J., & Morello-Frosch, R. (2006). Breathless: Schools, air toxics, and environmental justice in California. Policy Studies Journal, 34(3), 337–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Penn, D. A. (2007). Estimating missing values from the general social survey: An application of multiple imputation. Social Science Quarterly, 88, 573–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Perera, F. (2008). Children are likely to suffer most from our fossil fuel addiction. Environmental Health Perspectives, 116, 987–990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Reardon, S. F., & Galindo, C. (2009). The Hispanic-White achievement gap in math and reading in the elementary grades. American Educational Research Journal, 46(3), 853–891.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Roberts, A. L., Lyall, K., Hart, J. E., Laden, F., Just, A. C., Bobb, J. F., et al. (2013). Perinatal Air pollutant exposures and autism spectrum disorder in the children of Nurses’ Health Study II participants. Environmental Health Perspectives: DOI. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1206187.Google Scholar
  66. Scharber, H., Lucier, C., London, B., Rosofsky, A., & Shandra, J. (2013). The consequences of exposure to, neurological, and respiratory toxins for school performance: a closer look at environmental ascription in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Population and Environment, 35, 205–224. doi: 10.1007/s11111-013-0185-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Su, J., Jerrett, M., Morello-Frosch, R., Jesdale, B., & Kyle, A. (2012). Inequalities in cumulative environmental burdens among three urbanized counties in California. Environment International, 40, 79–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Su, J. G., Morello-Frosch, R., Jesdale, B. M., Kyle, A. D., Shamasunder, B., & Jerrett, M. (2009). An index for assessing demographic inequalities in cumulative environmental hazards with application to Los Angeles, California. Environmental Science & Technology, 43(20), 7626–7634. doi: 10.1021/es901041p.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Texas Department of Transportation. (2011, April). El Paso Region freight rail study.
  70. USA Today. (2009). The smokestack effect: Toxic air and America’s schools.
  71. US Customs and Border Protection. (2014). Locate a port of entry.
  72. US Department of Education. (2009). Digest of education statistics.
  73. US Institute of Medicine. (1999). Toward environmental justice: Research, education, and health policy needs. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  74. Visser, P. S., Krosnick, J. A., Marquette, J., & Curtin, M. (1996). Mail surveys for election forecasting? An evaluation of the Columbus Dispatch Poll. Public Opinion Quarterly, 60(2), 181–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Zeger, S. L., & Liang, K. Y. (1986). Longitudinal data analysis for discrete and continuous outcomes. Biometrics, 42, 121–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephanie E. Clark-Reyna
    • 1
  • Sara E. Grineski
    • 1
    Email author
  • Timothy W. Collins
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyUniversity of Texas at El PasoEl PasoUSA

Personalised recommendations