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U.S. Senate Green Buildings Report Recommends School Health Improvements and Passage of the School Environment Protection Act
(May 7, 2003)
U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) announced on April 30, 2003 the release of Building Momentum: National Trends and Prospects for High-Performance Green Buildings, a report coordinated and prepared by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, on which Jeffords serves as Ranking Member. The report demonstrates the economic and environmental viability of building high-performance "green" buildings and focuses in part on the school environment. Buildings that meet the standards of the report increase workers' productivity, consume less energy and water, produce less waste, and can save significant natural and monetary resources in operation and management costs, according to an EPW press release.

The report's school focused recommendations include: strengthening EPA's indoor air quality programs for schools; implementing the Healthy and High Performance Schools provisions of Leave No Child Behind Act; funding school environmental quality research; expanding the federal Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units to allow work onsite with schools; and, enacting the School Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) to promote safer pest control practices.

SEPA provides basic levels of protection for children and school staff from the use of pesticides in public school buildings and on school grounds by requiring schools to implement an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program and provide parents, students and staff prior notification of pesticide applications.

IPM is a pest management strategy that focuses on long-term prevention or suppression of pest problems through pest population monitoring, site or pest inspections, and structural, mechanical, cultural, and biological controls. Techniques include such methods as sanitation, pest-proofing waste disposal, structural maintenance, good soil health, and other non-chemical tactics. Least-hazardous pesticides are selected only as a last resort, thus minimizing the toxicity of and exposure to pesticide products that are used.

"With the support of the 'Building Momentum' report, I intend to work in a bi-partisan way with my Senate and House colleagues to ensure that the Federal government does its part to promote the economic, environmental, and health benefits that can be realized within a 'greener' built environment," said Jeffords. "I believe we ought to encourage and expand upon this sort of Federal leadership."

According to the report's section on School Environmental Quality, EPA estimates that 40 percent of the nation's 115,000 schools suffer from poor environmental conditions, including, among others, exposure to pesticides, cleaning agents, building materials, molds, leaking roofs, poor heating and ventilation systems, and failing plumbing, may compromise health, safety, and learning of more than 14 million students.

The report states that asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism, and commercial products such as pesticides are one of the major indoor triggers of asthma attacks. EPA's recent report on the 1999 survey of Minnesota schools is referenced in the report, exemplifying the fact that pesticides are sprayed in classrooms, locker rooms, gymnasiums, cafeteria, and kitchens and without notification to the school occupants. This report also points out that, "There is no federal statute requiring the collection of data on pesticide use in schools," which was also identified as a federal inadequacy by Senator Lieberman (D-CT) in January 2000 at the release of the U.S. General Accounting Office report Use, Effects, and Alternatives to Pesticides in Schools (GAO/RCED-00-17, November 1999).

"If the recommendations in this report are followed, children will breathe better, learn better, and live better - even as schools, in the long run, save money," said Daniel Swartz, Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based Children's Environmental Health Network.

"Stimulating healthier buildings for children is a path to better attendance and test scores," said Claire Barnett, Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network, who provided testimony to the EPW Green Schools Hearing last October.

For information about safer school pest management practices, see http://www.beyondpesticides.org/schools.