The United States government will provide funding to help schools retrofit their heating, ventilation and cooling systems to create cleaner air and create neighbourhood cooling refuges in vulnerable communities.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said funding will be made available under the American Rescue Plan Act.

Multnomah County in Oregon and Kittitas County in Washington have been selected to be part of the Schools as Community Cleaner Air and Cooling Centres pilot program.

Administrator Michael S. Regan said the assistance will help schools keep their students safer every day with healthier air.

 “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,” he said.

At the same time the government launched the White House Extreme Heat Interagency Working Group, which is co-chaired by EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the 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 neighbours 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 centres in areas known to have more residents susceptible to serious health impacts from extreme heat and wildfire smoke. 

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.

The projects are set to begin later this year.


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