the new Brown Administration were in historic Los Angeles City Hall last Tuesday,
February 1st listening to testimony from experts and community members regarding
the impact of pollution sources on schools.
The standing room only crowd listened intently as U.S. EPA representatives took
notes on speakers comments made about its newly proposed guidance document
on school siting. The documents which can be reviewed at http://www.epa.gov/
are available for comment until February 18th.
This well attended “listening session” sponsored by environmental health and
environmental justice advocates Robina Suwol of California Safe Schools and Jane
Williams of California Communities Against Toxics is the only scheduled session
in the country.
The session featured a panel of federal, state, and local officials and prominent
community activists working to make environmental conditions at schools safer.
Community leaders, and scientists who are experts in children’s health gave
testimony to the panel. Given the current epidemic of childhood asthma, cancer,
neurological disorders and other health effects, advocates stated that if there is
anytime that more protective measures should be taken, it is now.
California has one of the largest school construction programs in the country,
siting over hundreds of new schools in the past decade. Many more are still to
Communities in Los Angeles have a long history advocating for better
environmental conditions at schools with a number of very high profile school
siting debacles occurring in Los Angeles, notably Belmont High School a decade
ago and, more recently, the Carson-Gore Academy.
“Real life examples of school siting decisions gone wrong, by parents and
students affected by those decisions, is the best elixir to improve decisions in
the future,” stated Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities
Poor land use decisions by local agencies have schools located next to junkyards,
refineries, open shooting ranges, chrome plating facilities, gas stations with leaking
underground storage tanks, oil production facilities, airports and busy freeways.
“We hope that the testimony given to the U.S. EPA will help strengthen this
proposed school siting document by warning school districts not to locate
schools near potentially dangerous facilities or on toxic sites that have not
been adequately cleaned up,” said Robina Suwol of California Safe Schools.
Efforts by community members and parents trying to protect school children from
pollution at these schools is often frustrating and ineffective due to ill conceived
land use decisions. Having strong, protective federal guidelines on school siting
will avoid these situations in the future and possibly help local land use agencies
engage in more protective actions.
Unfortunately, the current guidelines recommended by U.S. EPA are voluntary.
The purpose of this four hour “listening session” was to educate federal, state, and
local officials, through case studies and real life examples, about the importance
of strengthening the proposed federal guidance on school siting.
Given the topic, it may come as no surprise that one of the most compelling
speakers of the day was a ten year old student named Anya who said,
“When kids do something wrong there are consequences. I think grown ups
should have consequences too, when they don’t protect kids."
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A children's Environmental Health and Environmental Justice coalition, nationally and internationally celebrated for creating the first policy in the United States to embrace the
Precautionary Principle and Right to Know.