Hundreds of students got unexpected news as they geared up for back to school – their first day for the 2018-2019 school year was pushed back. While many kids were celebrating an extended summer vacation, many parents and community members were left with questions about the conditions of school buildings.
The cause of the delay? Problems with indoor air quality, mold, and damage caused from the hot weather. These issues affected school start dates in seven districts across southwestern Pennsylvania, including:
|School District||Schools||Environmental Hazard Found||Action Taken|
|Shaler||High School||Spores found in air quality tests||Delayed opening to Sept. 4|
|Highlands||High School||Mold||Delayed opening to Sept. 4|
|Plum-Borough||High School, Obleck Middle School||Mold found in 3 classrooms||Delayed opening for the district to Sept. 4|
|Mt. Pleasant||Junior-Senior High School||Water damage around windows causing mold||Delayed opening to Sept. 4; remediation on going through Reynold’s Restoration|
|Pine-Richland||Hance Elementary School||Mold on ceilings||Moved to Eden Hall Elementary School while remediation occurs|
|Southmoreland||High School||Air quality||Remediation ongoing|
|North Allegheny||McKnight Elementary School||Mold in classrooms||Children moved from affected areas; remediation on-going by AGX Environmental Consultants|
While these issues are not uncommon at the end of the summer, there are ways schools and school districts can prevent them. The Environmental Protection Agency published guidelines, titled “Tools for Schools” that help schools create and implement healthy indoor air quality plans. Under these guidelines are several resources intended to help members of a school community – from teachers, to students; to parents and facilities directors – to make informed decisions to protect children’s health.
Children spend up to 1,000 hours in school every year. We must all do what we can to protect the environments in which they live, learn, and play. The first step is getting informed and pursuing preventive strategies, rather than just remediation once a problem has been identified. Together, we can take important steps to ensure delayed school starts are prevented.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
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 info@HealthySchoolsPA.org
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