Children spend a large portion of their time in school, where they are often exposed to toxic chemicals. Common sources of toxic exposures in schools include pesticides on lawns or in buildings, cleaning products, art and hobby supplies, head lice shampoo, playground equipment, and building materials. These exposures have been associated with adverse health effects in children, as well as impacts on learning and school performance. A 2004 United States Department of Education study linked poor indoor environmental quality caused by pollutants to adverse health outcomes that can lead to reduced attendance and impaired performance by students. In a survey of school nurses, 71% reported they knew students at school whose learning, breathing or behavior were affected by indoor environmental pollutants at school, such as bus fumes, cleaning products, pesticides or scented products. To address these problems, school districts and states across the nation are implementing initiatives to create healthy schools through policies and practices that protect children’s health in the school environment.
This call discussed how children are exposed to toxics in schools (in both indoor and outdoor environments), specific chemicals of concern, the latest science concerning the health effects of exposure to these chemicals, and chemicals of particular concern in Alaska. Presenters also covered solutions such as green cleaning, school siting and design, and integrated pest management. This teleconference provided an opportunity to discuss possibilities for civic engagement to advocate for healthy schools in Alaska.
The Coalition for Healthier Schools offers the national report Lessons Learned, with state-by-state cases and data illustrating the need for healthier schools.
Claire L. Barnett, MBA, is founder and Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network, Inc. (the Network), a national environmental health organization. Barnett is also the Coordinator of the national Coalition for Healthier Schools, convened by the Network and its national and state advisers. From the national Coalition base, Barnett spear-headed creation of a Collaborative Work Group on Green Cleaning and Chemical Policy Reform in Schools which has updated criteria for certifying green products, launched an open-source, online toolkit field tested in ten states, and is supporting policy reforms with a growing roster of NGO partners nationwide.
Stephen Lester is the Science Director for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ). Stephen received his first Master’s of Science, in Toxicology, from Harvard University, and his second Master’s of Science, in Environmental Health, from New York University. He received his Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from American University. Stephen has served on numerous scientific advisory committees including the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and the Natural Resource Council of the National Academy of Sciences.
Michael Schade is the PVC Campaign Coordinator for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ). Mike coordinates CHEJ’s national PVC (polyvinyl chloride) campaign and has coordinated numerous community, marketplace, and policy campaigns resulting in substantial victories for environmental health and justice in New York State over the past eight years. Prior to working for CHEJ, Mike was the Western New York Director of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition (CEC) for four years. Mike has been an active participant in local, statewide, and national PVC campaigns. He is a graduate of the State University of NY at Buffalo with a degree in Environmental Studies.