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Air Quality and Our Health

A poor air quality day represents a day when particulate matter in the air is concentrated at levels where short or long-term exposure can be harmful to human health. Children are especially vulnerable to air pollution because their lungs are still developing.
The PA Department of Environmental Protection reports that “On air quality action days, young children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems, such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis, are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution and should limit outdoor activities”.

What should schools do on poor air quality days to protect the health of students and staff?

Be informed.
  • For school or early learning professionals in Allegheny County: Sign up for school and early learning-specific air quality updates here.
  • If you are a resident in Allegheny County: Sign up for Women for a Healthy Environment’s real-time air quality updates here AND sign up for Allegheny County Health Department’s Air Quality Action Alerts here.
  • For parents, residents, students, and school professionals outside Allegheny County, check your local health department for air quality alerts, or find real-time forecasts through the AirNow.gov website. Here you can also register to receive daily alerts.
Limit outdoor playtime on Code Orange or Code Red days.
  • Have Physical Education, Athletic Directors, and Sports Coaches monitor the air quality the morning of their planned outdoor activities, and make arrangements to bring children inside for recess or PE on Code Orange or Code Red days.
  • Move after-school sports practices indoors.
  • If you have an on-site before and after school program, share the above resources to help inform their decisions about students’ outdoor time.
Install an air quality monitor on your school building.
  • Healthy Schools PA is launching air quality monitoring and curriculum for middle school and high-school students, aligned with PA School Standards, to teach and empower students to read and collect data on air quality, as well as make a plan for addressing poor air quality in your area.
  • Air quality monitors are provided to schools free of charge through our curriculum program.
Write to your local legislators.
School districts – and their students and staff – should not have to suffer because of the polluting actions of industries. By having industrial factories, refineries, wells, mines, and the like within 1 mile of school buildings, public playgrounds, and childcare centers, we are putting children at greater risk for long-term health problems. Demand fair zoning laws that regulate these industries to be at least 1 mile away from any school or playground.

Learn more about Radon in Schools!

1. Learn the facts about radon.

2. Check your school or home zipcode to see what Dept. of Environmental Protection recorded radon levels are typical for your area.

3. Use our parent script to call your school district and ask them if they’ve recently tested for radon in your child’s schools.

State of Environmental Health in Southwestern PA: A Report

In order to gain a better understanding of environmental health hazards facing the more than 330,000 students enrolled in public school districts across southwestern Pennsylvania, Healthy Schools PA—a program of Women for a Healthy Environment—embarked on an extensive information gathering mission. This initiative entailed sending Right-to-Know requests to every public school district located in southwestern Pennsylvania’s 10-county region, and then scouring the information for detailed environmental data. The result is The State of Environmental Health in Southwestern Pennsylvania Schools, a first-of-its-kind report examining 13 specific environmental-related issues:

  • Radon
  • Drinking Water Quality, including Lead
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Artificial Playing Surfaces
  • Cleaning Products
  • Construction and Renovation Projects
  • Asthma Rates
  • Pest Management
  • Mold and more

While there are many known health hazards presented, this report also includes preventative strategies that school districts can immediately undertake to protect students, teachers and staff from environmental harm. Healthy Schools PA offers free technical assistance and guidance to schools and should be considered a valuable partner and resource for finding incremental steps to improve a school district’s environmental health.

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External Threats

External Threats Map

Are your kids at risk? Numerous potential environmental hazards lurk from industrial and power plant emissions, gas wells, compressor stations, mining operations, and active rail lines. More than 336,000 children are impacted by these environmental hazards across 128 school districts in 674 public school buildings in the 10-county Southwestern Pennsylvania region.

Success Stories

Scores of schools and school districts across our region are taking positive steps to help their students thrive in healthier environments. From testing for radon to cleaning green, discover how teachers, staff, and parents are working together to bring about positive change.

One Simple Step

That You Can Take TODAY To Make Schools Healthy

Limit Bus Idling to Only Five Minutes
Air pollution caused by bus idling enters the school building through open doors and windows. Children are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of diesel exhaust because their respiratory systems are not fully developed.