(Beyond Pesticides, April 26, 2012) Beyond Pesticides joins over 30 co-sponsors for the 10th annual National Healthy Schools Day in urging Federal and State governments to step up to improve the environmental health of schools nationwide. Though a growing number of states are beginning to address risks to children in schools, more work must be done to protect children, faculty and staff from unnecessary exposure to harmful chemicals, toxic pesticides and allergens. According to the Healthy Schools Network, the organization that coordinates National Healthy Schools Day, more than two thirds of the nearly 100,000 public school buildings in the country have at least one dire infrastructure problem, however these schools are virtually unregulated by any agency for indoor environmental health and safety standards.
Research shows direct links between a school’s poor indoor environment and higher rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments. Other studies show that improving indoor air quality has measurable impacts on student and teacher health and productivity. Children are especially vulnerable to negative effects of toxic pesticide and chemical exposure as they take in more toxins relative to their body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are less able to detox.
In a statement of support for the efforts of Healthy School’s Network, Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman says, “Children need better protection from toxic chemical exposure while at school. 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. Fortunately, effective and safer pest management strategies that do not rely on harmful pesticides exist. Beyond Pesticides is proud to join as a co-sponsor for the 10th National Healthy Schools Day and continue working to improve our children’s health.”
In commemorating a growing movement on National Healthy Schools Day, Healthy Schools Network is recognizing New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s efforts. Governor Cuomo has set an example with a proclamation that highlights the connection between poor indoor air quality and poor learning and behavior.
“We know that toxic and allergen-ridden indoor air environments are making our children and teachers sick and impairing their ability to succeed in the classroom,” said Claire Barnett, Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network said. “When you take in the missed work days and the health costs and the moms who are teachers staying home with their kids who are sick, that’s a double and triple whammy on our economy and educational system we can’t afford.”
The proclamation promotes construction guidelines that incorporate environmental health practices and also lower operating costs; it also highlights the state’s green cleaning in schools program. Some additional highlights that Healthy Schools Network points out are:
Federal Initiatives. The federal government is kicking off initiatives to address school environments. U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has established voluntary school siting and indoor environments guidelines and grants for states, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has initiated a Green Ribbon Schools award to recognize schools that save energy, have healthy facilities, and offer environmental education. President Obama has proposed $25 billion to modernize 35,000 public schools, which would provide much-needed funds to, among other purposes, eliminate environmental hazards in schools.
Other state and local Healthy Schools Day activities are also underway: in Texas and Massachusetts, for example, U.S. EPA regional staff are leading conferences or participating in urban school walk-throughs. In Wisconsin, a state senator will present his resolution to school children who have done art projects on indoor air.
But, more must be done at all levels. The negative impact on women and children is severe, and Healthy Schools Network points to the following research:
* Pediatric asthma hospitalizations often triple in the days after summer vacations, according to a 2011 New York Health Department study. School children also face increased risks of asthma hospitalizations on return to school after winter and spring breaks. Asthma is also a leading cause of work-related illnesses among teachers and custodians.
* 40 percent of nurses who are members of the National Association of School Nurses said they knew children and personnel affected by pollutants in schools.
* A June 2011 Institute of Medicine report stated that polluted indoor environments are already damaging health and learning, and that measures to prevent exposures indoors should be a priority. The report noted, “By one estimate, poor indoor conditions cost the nation’s economy tens of billions of dollars a year in exacerbation of illnesses and allergenic symptoms and in lost productivity.”
In the report, The Schooling of State Pesticide Laws — 2010 Update, Beyond Pesticides finds that 35 states have taken limited action to step in and provide protective measures to address pesticide use in, around or near their schools. There is some growth, for instance: 21 states recommend or require schools to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), which is a 24 percent increase from the original report in 1998. However, these actions respresent a patchwork of laws that are uneven and inadequate as the majority of school children continue to be exposed to toxic pesticides while at school.
Earlier this year, a bill to prohibit the use of most lawn pesticides on public and private playgrounds, recreation fields and daycare centers that was introduced in New Jersey failed to pass the state legislature despite overwhelming support. Legislators and advocates are working to block an effort in the Connecticut General Assembly that would repeal the state’s current ban on toxic pesticide use on school grounds by allowing their use as part of a poorly defined IPM program.
What can you do?
Healthy Schools Network has created a “Healthy Schools Day Proclamation Toolkit” in order to help urge political leaders to act on their convictions and to “be on the record” for resolutions to promote healthy school environments. They also provide a list of ways in which teachers, parents, organizations and community members can help improve the environmental health of their school. See healthyschools.org for more information.
Federal Legislation Needed
Ask your Member of Congress to support the School Environment Protection Act of 2012 (SEPA). Beyond Pesticides believes that federal legislation is needed to ensure a healthy learning environment for all students. In March, U.S. Represenative Rush Holt and colleagues introduced the School Environment Protection Act, which would protect school children from pesticides used both indoors and on all school grounds nationwide. The legislation also bans the use of synthetic fertilizers. SEPA was first introduced in November 1999 in both the U.S. Senate and House. The bill language is based on state school pest management laws. It also mirrors the structure of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established a national committee to oversee the program as well as established a list of pesticides allowed for use within the program. A form of SEPA has passed the U.S. Senate twice since and, together with other legislation, indicates broad support for a national mandate to stop hazardous pesticide use in schools. To learn more about this legislation and help its passage, see Beyond Pesticides’ SEPA webpage.
Healthy Schools Day is coordinated by Healthy Schools Network in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Council of Educational Facility Planners – International that celebrates School Building Week annually.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.