Air Quality in Schools: Anti-Idling and Mapping Project

Healthy Schools PA, a program of Women for a Healthy Environment, has had a busy 2015! As the end of the year approaches, we are taking a look back and highlighting two of our flagship initiatives that help reduce environmental pollution, resulting in healthier children: our Anti-Idling Awareness campaign and our School Mapping Project.


In 2009, the Pennsylvania Diesel Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act was passed, which prohibits bus idling for longer than five minutes per hour. To raise awareness around law, which includes school buses, Healthy Schools PA produced an anti-idling awareness decal that can be affixed to the window of a school bus that reminds school bus operators, teachers, parents, students, and the community to turn off the engine to protect growing lungs. The decal is perforated to aid the bus driver with visibility. In an effort to reach the most school districts and transportation companies, Healthy Schools PA provides the decals to all interested companies and schools at no cost. The decals have been approved by PennDOT and the PA State Police. Both recognized the value of this decal as an educational tool and awareness building campaign in regards to bus idling. Our goal is to have a window decal on every school bus in the state to continue spreading awareness about the 2009 Anti-Idling Act.


Why did Healthy Schools PA choose bus idling as an important issue to tackle? The EPA finds diesel exhaust among the most dangerous forms of air pollution. While developing, children and teens are especially vulnerable to environmental pollution. Children’s bodies are different than adults, their organs and systems are still developing. Pound for pound, children breathe more air, consume more food and drink more water than adults. There are especially important and vulnerable times during a child’s development when we need to think of potential exposures to environmental hazards, and the cumulative effects those exposures can have on a child’s growth and well-being. The timing of exposure, size of the person, amount of exposure and cumulative effects from exposures are all influencing factors on a child’s health.


A child’s vulnerability to environmental pollution motivated Healthy Schools PA to create an interactive tool that mapped the following potential environmental hazards within a one-mile radius of a public school building in southwestern PA: air emission sources, gas wells (unconventional also known as Marcellus wells, as well as compressor stations), mining operations, and active rail lines. The first phase reviewed public schools, charter schools and technical schools. Data was collected from the PA Department of Environmental Protection (captive hazardous waste hazards, gas wells, mining hazards); the PAMAP program (rail lines); and the Environmental Protection Agency (air emission sources).


Because outdoor contaminants have the ability to impact indoor spaces, many of these hazards have the potential to impact children’s health, as well as the health of anyone in the school setting. Many of these sources release known or probable carcinogens, pollutants that are linked with increased risk of lung or hear disease, and chemicals that can trigger allergy and asthma symptoms.

Through these two initiatives, Healthy Schools PA believes that it has positively impacted the health of our children in Pennsylvania. For any questions, or to order anti-idling bus decals for your school’s fleet, please contact us today at


Because Every Child Deserves Clean Air

When children and teachers step into school each morning, the air they breathe and the materials they’re exposed to have a direct impact on their health—that day and years in the future. Unhealthy indoor air, polluted from toxic chemicals or materials or even the school’s location, can exacerbate asthma and contribute to problems such as headaches and fatigue that detract from learning


Chronic Absenteeism

It’s as elemental as it gets — keeping kids in the classroom means they have more opportunities to learn. That’s one reason why daily attendance has historically been such an important measure for schools. However, while no one questions this fact, it turns out that measuring kids in class may not be as straightforward as most of us assume.


Green Cleaning in Schools: Good for Students, the Environment, and the Bottom Line

Green cleaning is cleaning to protect health that does not harm the environment. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require cleaning products to list ingredients, and as a result many chemical cleaners contain a number of known human toxics or carcinogens. Fumes from some cleaning products have been shown to induce asthma in otherwise healthy individuals.

The environment has a much greater effect on children than it does on adults. Children breathe more air and drink more water per pound of body weight, and their organ systems are still developing. Research has shown that attendance and test scores are lower due to poor indoor air quality. Since children spend so much of their time at school, it is important that the school environment is healthy so that children are not at risk of missing valuable learning time.

Children who play on the floor often put their hands in their mouths, making them more likely to expose themselves to chemicals via hand-to-mouth contact. Residues from cleaning products can also cause burns or rashes on children’s skin, especially if the product was used incorrectly or in excess.

Click HERE to learn more, including helpful EPA and CDC links.

Furthermore, green cleaning is good for the environment. Approximately 23 million tons of carbon emissions would be saved if all schools in the United States switched to green cleaning techniques. It also saves money. One school district in New York saved $365,000 after switching to a green cleaning program. This frees up funds to be allocated towards educational programs rather than routine building maintenance.

It is important to choose products that protect human health. Choose products that:

  •      Have been certified by a third party (such as Green Seal, Eco Logo or Safer Choices
  •       Contain no known or probable carcinogens
  •       Have a neutral pH
  •       Are free of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which easily evaporate into the air
  •       Are not packaged in aerosol or spray cans
  •       Are non-irritating to eyes or skin
  •       Do not contain fragrances

Green cleaning is beneficial for children, employees, buildings, and school districts’ budgets. In school districts where gree cleaning is already incorporated, test scores and attendance are up and costs are down. Urge your children’s school district to adopt green cleaning procedures. Contact us to learn how you can make an impact.


Air Quality Awareness Month: Radon in the Classroom

The month of March is all about air quality awareness here at Healthy Schools Pennsylvania. Air quality in schools is often something that is overlooked, but many children are affected by the quality of the air in classrooms, especially as asthma rates are on the rise. Classrooms tend to have poor indoor air quality because they do not have proper ventilation or intake of outdoor air, often a result of attempts to lessen heating or cooling costs.

A big factor impacting air quality within the classroom is Radon. Radon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless dangerous gas that occurs naturally in the ground from the breakdown of uranium. Radon can seep into buildings through cracks in the foundation, and then it can build up over time. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that radon is responsible for about 20,000 deaths a year. The gas is a known carcinogen—it is the second leading cause of lung cancer, just behind smoking. Studies have shown that thousands of classrooms across the country have radon levels that are more than twice the EPA’s action level, which is 4 pico curies per liter. The EPA estimates that more than 70,000 classrooms have radon levels at the action level. Experts say children being exposed to anything above 4 p/CiL is the equivalent of them smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day.

Most classrooms are never tested for radon. So far, only 5 states have required testing in schools: Rhode Island, Connecticut, Virginia, Florida and Colorado. However, even in these states, many school districts have never done any testing. Furthermore, none of these laws require that the states actually do anything to lessen or fix the radon levels. The EPA has recommended many clear ways to alleviate high levels of radon in school buildings, but these efforts can be costly which unfortunately deters many schools from ever conducting the tests.

Children breathe in higher amounts of air than adults. Radon poses a very real threat to children of developing lung cancer, especially considering the amount of time they spend at school.

Encourage administrators at your children’s school to test for Radon in order to maintain a green and healthy learning environment. Contact Healthy Schools PA for more information, call 412-404-2872 or e-mail

Read more here:


Back to School

It’s that time of year again, summer is winding down and that to back to school feeling is in the air. Stores are stocked up on school supplies and between new pens, pencils, binders and lunch boxes, it can be difficult to decide which products are healthy and safe for school students. To make choosing school supplies easy for parents and students, Healthy Schools PA has put together a ” Green Guide for Back to School” to make sure this school year will be a safe and healthy!

Fragrance-Free Schools Video Contest Winners:

1st Place Winner

Souderton Area High School

Watch Video Here


Livia Molinaro

Franklin Regional School District

Watch Video Here


Every day students suffer because of allergies and asthma triggered by fragrances. In fact, about 30% of the population suffers from allergies and is, in some degree, affected by fragrances. Approximately 5 to 10% of the population are extremely sensitive to these scented products—and these sensitivities can have a severe impact on the lives of both adults and students.

For more information on Fragrance-Free Schools, click here!

Special thanks to the Highmark Foundation for sponsoring this contest!

View the informative webinar “IPM and Schools: Lice, Bed Bugs and Beyond” here:

Lyn Garling and Michelle Niedermeier, both with the PA Integrated Pest Management Program, present information regarding best management practices in the school setting. Lyn and Michelle have extensive experience in this field and will cover all topics related to pest management in the school setting. Questions regarding pest management? This is the session for you! This webinar is relevant for all audiences: parents, teachers, facility directors and employees, and administration. Contact us at 412.404.2872 or to receive more information.

Webinar link: