Jan. 4, 2018 Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), an organization of physicians and public health professionals, is embarking on a new project to make schools healthier places for students to attend. In January 2018, EHHI will begin visiting local health departments and superintendents of schools with a new brochure that lists 12 ways to make schools healthier environments for students. The Connecticut Health Foundation has underwritten the brochure, which can be found at http://www.ehhi.org.
Students spend an enormous number of their waking hours in school environments. Younger children, due to their small size and special physiology, are particularly vulnerable to toxic materials where they play and learn. Therefore, it is very important that schools be as environmentally safe as possible. Many of the changes listed below do not actually cost money to implement; they are simply new ways to look at school surroundings.
Pesticides are toxic, and students should have as little exposure to these chemicals as possible. If a school must use these products inside, they should never be used when students are in the buildings, and parents and teachers should be notified a day in advance. The least toxic materials possible should be used. Students and teachers should not be allowed back into the buildings until the residue is gone. Only trained and licensed people should be allowed to apply pesticides. Outside grounds should not be treated with pesticides unless there is a health concern, such as poison ivy, and then prior notice should be given to teachers and parents.
Art Supplies and Art Rooms
Art rooms should have proper ventilation. Many art supplies are toxic and become airborne, irritating the lungs and bronchial tubes. It is recommended that ventilating systems have between 15 and 20 cubic feet of outdoor air per minute per occupant. Caution should be used to make sure that the contaminated air does not circulate into the other parts of the building through the ventilation system.
Many carpets, backings and adhesives contain formaldehyde and outgas for long periods of time. Children should not be exposed to formaldehyde, especially over extended periods of time. When new carpeting is ordered, the carpet, as well as the carpet backing, should be required to be formaldehyde-free. In addition, the installer should be required to use formaldehyde-free and non-toxic adhesives. Formaldehyde is a respiratory irritant as well as a carcinogen.
Damp Areas and Damp Carpeting
Mold can grow in areas of dampness, and many children and adults are allergic to mold. Molds can cause asthma as well as other health problems. Areas in schools that are wet or damp should be immediately remediated.
Chemistry laboratories and other school laboratories that use hazardous materials should be properly ventilated to make sure that the exhaust does not enter other parts of the building.
Copy machines outgas ozone and therefore should be well ventilated. These machines are often placed in small, unventilated spaces with people working near them. The ozone that copy machines put out is harmful to lung function.
Testing for Radon, Lead and Arsenic
Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas that emanates from rock and soil content in the ground. Radon is a lung carcinogen and therefore should be tested for, and if found, can be rather inexpensively remediated. School drinking water should be tested for lead and arsenic.
Cleaning Products Used in Schools
Many cleaning products are toxic; therefore, cleaning staff should be required to use the least toxic products that are efficient and available. In Connecticut, for example, the law states that no person shall use a cleaning product inside a school unless such cleaning product meets guidelines or environmental standards as established by an approved third-party certification program. Teachers should not bring their own cleaning products into their classrooms.
New Construction and Renovations
Good indoor air quality should be one of the chief criteria in planning a construction project. The contract should require the least toxic materials that are practical, and work schedules that will not put children and teachers at risk from compromised air quality due to the construction. Particular attention should be given to avoiding wood products that use large amounts of formaldehyde as bonding agents, such as particleboard. New furniture, like new carpeting, can be a source of formaldehyde; these purchases should always be formaldehyde-free.
Exhaust From Buses or Motor Vehicles
Schools should make sure that the air intakes of the ventilating systems are not in areas where cars or buses idle, so that the incoming air in the school is laden with diesel and car exhaust. Also, school buses should not idle as they pick up students after school to go home, or let them off in the morning.
Young Children’s playgrounds
Playgrounds should never be surfaced with shredded waste tire rubber mulch. The rubber mulch contains many carcinogens and carbon black, which is also a carcinogen. Every tire is made up of between 20 percent and 30 percent of carbon black, and small children should not be exposed to such toxic materials. Either sand or wood chips are safe surfacing materials for school and town playgrounds.
Synthetic Turf Fields
Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI) maintains that the safest surface for students and athletes to play on is grass. Synthetic turf fields contain many toxic chemicals, get excessively hot in the warm weather, cause many skin abrasions and therefore skin infections, and are expensive to install and properly maintain. These fields have a shelf life of 10 years at the most, and then they need to be replaced costing close to a million dollars each.
Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI) changed the way school buses were run when they discovered that there were high levels of diesel exhaust in the cabs of school buses. School children were heavily exposed to diesel exhaust as they rode on their school buses to and from school. Having addressed that issue, EHHI continues to work to make school environments safer places for our children.
Environment and Human Health, Inc.
Environment and Human Health, Inc.