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2004 School Environmental Checklist Helps Parents and Schools Create Healthier Learning Environments
(Beyond Pesticides, August 23, 2004) A broad coalition of educational, environmental, health and civic organizations released a 2004 School Environmental Checklist today at media events across the country. The action Checklist is designed to help parents, students and teachers identify and fix environmental problems in their school, such as polluted indoor air and toxic chemical uses (visit www.healthyschools.org). This new tool also provides resources to develop a preventive and cost-effective action plan to protect children's health and improve school facility conditions. The coalition called upon the Bush Administration and Congress to reform and to fund school facilities so that every child and every school employee-- 20% of the American population-- has a healthy, hazard-free, and energy-efficient workplace.

Each school day, some 54 million students and six million staff attend our nation's schools. Half of this population may be exposed to unhealthy conditions: polluted indoor air, exposures to lead, asbestos, chemical fumes, pesticides, molds and other toxins, overcrowding and lack of sanitation. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) Many parents, teachers and health experts are worried about the growing trend of childhood diseases, such as asthma, learning disabilities, and cancer. Studies show chemical exposures and decayed school environments can contribute to those problems, as well as absenteeism.

Organizations are holding School Checklist Tours, media events or news releases in more than a dozen states. Attached is a national Calendar listing events in CA, DC, GA, FL, IL, MA, MN, NJ, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA and VA. The Checklist was developed jointly by the BE SAFE Network and Coalition for Healthier Schools (CHS), including Beyond Pesticides, Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), Healthy Schools Network, National PTA, Children's Health Environmental Coalition, Learning Disabilities Association of America and other groups.

National organizational leaders called on the Bush Administration and Members of Congress to allocate federal funds for states to conduct school health and safety repairs and renovations, and to fund the Healthy High Performance School Act in "No Child Left Behind" at a minimum of $25 million a year. This annual Department of Education appropriation would activate a grant program to help states show schools how to design and engineer healthier and more energy efficient facilities. One year ago, the US Senate defeated by only one vote an education budget amendment to renew a $1 billion appropriation to the states for school repairs. According to the National Center on Education Statistics and the National Education Association, the nation's 95,000 public schools need over $250 billion for construction and urgent repairs; the USD Energy has estimated schools could save $1.5 billion with more up-to-date heating, ventilating, and lighting systems.

The parent-friendly Checklist shows communities and schools how to identify problems and how to heed early warning signs and prevent toxic exposures by taking a precautionary approach. Based on every parent's commonsense approach of "be safe not sorry" and the "first do no harm" approach of medicine, the precautionary principle shifts the question asked from "what level of environmental harm is acceptable" to "how can we prevent harm?" Schools are our children's workplaces, often for more than 40 hours a week. Poor indoor air quality, including exposure to toxic chemicals and allergens, can contribute to problems such as increased hyperactivity, asthma, learning disabilities, environmental sensitivities, and other chronic health problems. The Checklist will help communities to create healthier school environments. It is more than saying "no" to hazards, it is also says "yes" to proactive prevention practices.

“Many people assume that schools are environmentally safe places for children to learn. Yet, it often takes a pesticide poisoning, repeated illnesses or a strong advocate to alert a school district to the adverse health effects of pesticides and the viability of safer pest management strategies, said Kagan Owens, Beyond Pesticides Program Director. "Schools that have chosen to adopt such strategies, such as an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, use alternatives to the prevailing chemical-intensive practices because of the health risk such practices pose to children and other school users. IPM is an approach that has been implemented in communities, schools, and government facilities for decades. The tools and experience to control school pests without using hazardous chemicals are available nationwide and have proven to be effective and economical."