(Beyond Pesticides, April 30, 2007) Today, school officials, teachers, parents and community activists around the country are celebrating National Healthy Schools Day. The Healthy Schools Network, which organizes the event, and event supporters, including Beyond Pesticides, believe that every child in every community should have an environmentally safe and healthy school that is clean and in good repair. Schools in poor condition on the outside often have indoor environmental problems that affect children’s health and learning.
Children face unique hazards from pesticide and other toxic chemical exposure. They take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults in the food they eat and air they breathe. Their developing organ systems often make them more sensitive to toxic exposure. The U.S. EPA, National Academy of Sciences, and American Public Health Association, among others, have voiced concerns about the danger that pesticides pose to children. The body of evidence in scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels. Several pesticides, such as pyrethrins and pyrethroids, organophosphates and carbamates, are also known to cause or exacerbate asthma symptoms.
Buildings in disrepair typically face higher rates of pest infestation and are often treated with pesticides that can impact children’s ability to learn and focus at school. “Is anyone actually surprised that children do better with fresh air and sunshine indoors? Repeated studies have shown layers of neglect of school buildings that cause or expose hazards that erode children’s health and learning,” said Claire Barnett of the Healthy Schools Network. “This is no longer a local problem — this is a national crisis. Today, National Healthy Schools Day, and this week, School Building Week, we honor and educate schools, agencies, communities, and advocates, and ask everyone to commit to resolving systemic problems so that every child has an environmentally healthy school.”
In 2003, Healthy Schools Network began coordinating events with the Council for Educational Faculty Planners International to celebrate National Healthy Schools Day. This year, event organizers are asking school districts to use the following checklist for healthy schools. Following these steps will reduce the need for pesticides and reduce children’s exposure to toxic chemicals.
Existing Buildings: Prevent/stop leaks; Replace wet and damaged materials in 24-48 hours; Wash floors and frequently touched surfaces with green cleaning products; Prevent/control pests and weeds naturally; Use nontoxic teaching supplies; Inspect and clean heating, ventilating, and A/C systems; Control/remove asbestos, radon, lead, arsenic, mercury, and persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs; and, Dispose of dangerous lab chemicals such as mercury, formaldehyde, or explosives.
New Buildings: Site new facilities for walking and biking to school; Provide safe outdoor learning/play areas; Keep site and building materials dry; Design to prevent dampness indoors; Use natural daylight, natural ventilation, windows that open; Design and furnish areas for easy cleaning, maintenance, and storage; Avoid carpets; Design halls and classrooms to minimize noise and reverberation; Don’t use building products that contain persistent or bio-accumulative toxics; Protect occupant health during renovations; and, Air out spaces prior to use.
TAKE ACTION: National Healthy Schools Day is the first day of School Building Week. To learn more about School Building Week and to learn what you can do, visit http://sbw.cefpifoundation.org. To learn more about the dangers of pesticide use in schools and to learn how to get pesticides out of your child’s school, visit www.beyondpesticides.org/schools. To learn more about the link between pesticides and childhood asthma, visit www.beyondpesticides.org/children/asthma.