Federal Government and States Can Do More to Improve School Indoor Environmental Quality
“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.”
Governor Cuomo’s proclamation underscores the importance of healthy school environments and continues New York State’s role as a leader on this issue. 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. This proclamation highlights a 2005 Executive Order and subsequent law – the first in the nation – that requires state agencies and schools to use certified green cleaning products. Some schools are now finding that they can reduce overall costs by up to 30 percent, when savings on worker health are counted. Eleven states now promote or require green cleaning in schools, including Vermont, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, and Maine; over a dozen states have regulations for safer pest control, and more have requirements to have Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Management Plans.
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, US 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.
“As a parent of children who had asthma growing up in school, I applaud the progress we’ve made together on this 10th Anniversary of National Healthy Schools Day,” said John Shaw, Board President of Healthy Schools Network. “Continuing this public/private cooperative effort at the federal, state, and local levels will ensure our children grow up to be healthy productive citizens.”
A wide array of federal officials and national and state organizations representing over 12 million Americans has endorsed National Healthy Schools Day, including U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Director of National Center for Environmental Health Dr. Chris Portier. See supporting statements in the online Media Kit linked below.
Other supporters include: the American Association of School Administrators, the Association of School Business Officials, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the American Federation of Teachers, the American Public Health Association, the National Association of School Nurses, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Education Association, the National Environment Health Association, the National Parent Teacher Association and the National School Boards Association. See supporting statements in the online Media Kit linked below.
But more must be done at all levels. The negative impact on women and children is severe, and the following research studies backup our work:
• 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.”
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.
For more information about school environments, such as Parent Reports discussing impacts on children Must-Read Science, model Proclamations, and U.S. EPA resources go to: http://www.nationalhealthyschoolsday.org/
Healthy Schools Network, Inc., is the leading national voice for children's environmental health at school and a national award-winning 501(c) 3 not-for-profit environmental health organization. Founded in 1995, it launched the national healthy schools movement with comprehensive state policies and a model coalition that have been shared and replicated widely since 1997. The Network coordinates the 1,000 member strong national Coalition for Healthier Schools that has won federal funds and laws to improve the conditions of schools. The Network can be reached at 518-462-0632 or on the web at http://www.HealthySchools.org.