We are excited to join together with the Healthy Schools Network to celebrate National Healthy Schools Day this year! National Healthy Schools Day is a celebration of the progress we’ve made so far – but also a call to action to continue our work towards our shared goal of “a healthy school for every child”.
At Healthy Schools PA, we work collaboratively with parents, teachers, custodians, and school administrators every day as we strive towards this goal. Whether we’re teaching in classrooms, speaking at faculty and school board meetings, or providing technical support to school districts across Southwestern PA, we are constantly reminded of how special working in the school environment is. There are so many unique opportunities for folks to get engaged, get involved, and take action in their schools!
In September 2018, we released a first-of-its-kind report, “The State of Environmental Health in Southwestern PA Schools”, taking a deep look at how our schools were addressing environmental health concerns such as asthma, radon, lead, and air quality. This report highlighted the need for us to support our school districts at a federal, state, and regional level so that they have the resources and education necessary to make decisions about creating healthier school environments. We are tireless advocates for smart policy decisions that not only provide guidelines for schools to implement healthier practices, but that also provide appropriate resources for schools to enact real, long-lasting change.
Thanks to a generous grant from the Heinz Endowments, we have been able to impact change in schools across our region through our 1,000 Hours of Lead and Radon Free Schools and Childcares program. Working together with school districts, we have provided financial and technical support to schools and childcare centers to test and remediate the lead and radon hazards in their buildings. We have partnered with schools every step of the way, from scheduling testing and creating a drinking water or radon sampling plan, to interpreting test results, to providing different options for remediation according to the EPA’s federal guidelines. What we’ve learned from these projects and these processes is that it takes collaboration across departments to make sustainable change. Change comes when we empower school community members to ask questions, get educated on the issues, and make informed decisions together, in an open, transparent process.
Next May, we are celebrating the 4th year of our annual Healthy Schools Recognition Program – highlighting the efforts individual schools and districts are taking to ensure that children have a healthy place to learn, grow, and play. If you or your school are taking steps to be green or healthy, we’d love to hear and celebrate your story and help you along your journey!
Every child deserves a healthy school. Join us as we make this a reality for schools across PA and across our nation!
Yesterday, our Executive Director, Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis delivered public comments at the Pittsburgh City Council’s meeting discussing lead in schools. Read them below:
“Good afternoon. I am Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment. Through education, technical assistance and advocacy our organization addresses environmental exposures that impact public health, including the neurotoxin lead.
Pittsburgh has a long tradition of focusing on lead exposure. One of the leading scientists and physicians in this area spent the majority of his career a few miles down the road in Oakland conducting research studies on the neurodevelopmental damage caused by lead poisoning. Dr. Herbert Needleman was credited with having played the key role in triggering environmental safety measures that have reduced average blood lead levels by an estimated 78 percent between 1976 and 1991.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and many others, no amount of lead exposure is considered safe for children. We know that we need healthy spaces for children to be able to thrive, to excel in school.
1000 hours a year – that is the average amount of time students spend in school. And it is our job to make certain that during those hours, every occupant in the building, the student, the teacher (including pregnant women), the administrator, the staff member including school nurse, cafeteria worker and custodian are in the healthiest environment possible. Since the launch of 1000 Hours a Year in 2017, our Healthy Schools PA program has worked with twenty-one school districts, by assisting with the testing and remediation of lead in drinking water in schools. To those districts and others that have acted on this issue, and prioritized protecting the health of their school community, we commend you.
What we have learned through the 1000 Hours a Year initiative is that every single school that has been tested, showed the presence of lead – perhaps it was in the service line, the faucet, fixtures, the solder. But the good news is this is a completely preventable, solvable issue. We can fix this.
Our Healthy Schools PA, State of the Schools report released last fall told us that schools across southwestern PA are on average 66 years old. It’s time to stop the blame game or to be afraid to address this significant issue. Lead in schools is part of our aging infrastructure. We also found that some school districts were relying on their municipal water authority’s consumer confidence report to understand risk of lead exposure. We recommend schools do not rely on the water authority’s sampling data. The authority’s sampling data is based on a random sample of homes and is not reflective of potential lead-based water contamination risks in a school. Schools must address lead in drinking water, site specific.
So now is the time to call for action. It doesn’t cost an exorbitant amount of money to install filtered drinking water stations in every building, to turn off access to sinks in classrooms, and install filtering units on school cafeteria sinks. We need funding at the federal and state level to support schools so they can update and repair the aging infrastructure in these buildings. This is a community-wide problem, and we need to community-wide support to resolve it.
I would urge you to contact your school to ask about the status of testing and remediation. I would urge you to contact your elected officials to let them know this is an issue that demands attention and financial support. I would urge to join the Lead Safe Allegheny coalition that prioritizes primary prevention of lead and taking action at the local level. We can do better, we must do better for the sake of our children. Let’s honor the legacy of Dr. Needleman and commit to owning and addressing lead exposure and making a commitment to change. Thank you.”
To learn more about our 1,000 Hours a Year program, click here.
Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the 3rd Annual Seeds of Change: Igniting Student Action for Sustainable Communities conference at the beautiful Eden Hall Campus of Chatham University.
The Seeds of Change conference brings together students from schools across the region to share, collaborate, and reimagine a more sustainable world. Class projects organized around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals showcase students’ skills in bridging interdisciplinary knowledge. A keynote lecture by Ariam Ford, a city planner consultant, set the tone for the uplifting and inspiring conversations that were to come.
From the group of students I was invited to learn from, I heard about:
- how a school building can be used as a tool for learning and practicing sustainability (Eden Hall Upper Elementary School – Pine Richland School District),
- how a workforce development program through Operation Better Block helps provide high schoolers with skill-building and community engagement (Homewood and Braddock communities),
- how community art initiatives can bring people together to help reimagine what development in their neighborhood could look like (Nazareth Prep),
- how 5th and 4th graders can bridge their disagreements and work together to make their very own pallet garden (Manchester Academic Charter School), and
- how high schoolers at City Charter school are envisioning a way to make home and community gardening more accessible to folks in their communities.
And these were only 5 of the 18 excellent presentations given that day, to adults working in industries as varied as public transportation, community art, facilities management, higher education, and local government.
Pictured above: Two poster boards on the Ohio River Watershed and Wildfire Prevention.
We ended the day with a listening session, where students explained to the adults in the room what their vision was for a sustainable Pittsburgh, and a sustainable world. Every day, these students are learning how to think through impossible problems, and break them down into ways they can act locally. They are problem solvers. They are goal-setters. Most importantly, they are committed to leaving this planet better than how they found it – and we adults have a lot to learn from their example.
In our day to day work, it can often feel like holistic, equitable, and impactful sustainability is just beyond our reach. Fighting for change can be a real uphill battle. But these students remind me that we have a responsibility to act. We have the power lift each other up. We have the ability to work together, racing towards our shared vision of just, green, and equitable world. These lessons move beyond the classroom and have the power to change our relationships with one another, and with our planet.
I want to thank Chatham University, Eden Hall Campus for the opportunity to be able to attend and moderate a session of the Seeds of Change conference. To learn more about Chatham University’s K-12 Educational Programs, click here.
Spending time with loved ones brings so much joy to the holiday season. While you celebrate this holiday, there are many fun, cost-effective, and healthy activities that allow you to spend quality time with one another. Read on for some fun ideas for creating happy, healthy memories together!
- Celebrate Traditions Together
What is a special tradition your family shares during the holidays? Whether it is sitting down and reflecting on your year together, decorating your home or your tree, or making home-made holiday cards or gingerbread houses – there is so much opportunity for sharing stories through family traditions. Instead of purchasing new decorations – can you craft some together? Instead of buying a tin of holiday cookies – can you bake and decorate them together? Taking some time to plan to do these activities from scratch can cut down on unnecessary waste and costs and increase the amount of quality time together! Why not start a new tradition this holiday season by checking out these zero waste holiday crafts?
Spending an afternoon or weekend morning volunteering makes for a nice change of pace during the bustling holiday season. Taking time to give back to others through your time and effort is a form of positive role-modeling, and will allow you and your family a chance to discuss how you live and practice your values. Sorting donations at a food bank, serving a meal at a church or shelter, sorting warm used clothes for the homeless – these are just a few ways you and your family can make a difference this holiday season. See what local volunteer opportunities exist in your area here.
- Get Active
Although winter is a fantastic time to stretch out by the fire, cuddle up with your pets, and read a good book; with so little daylight available, we should bundle up and venture outdoors to make use of those precious hours! Many state and national parks remain open during the winter season – often with reduced parking or admission fees. Taking a hike together as a family can be a fun way to spend time outdoors, explore your local parks, and get active in the winter season. Our suggestion? Write up a nature-based ‘scavenger hunt’ list before you head out. Who can spot the first owl? How about some mistletoe? Who can find the largest pinecone? Adding this fun, free challenge can liven up a hike down a trail you’ve been down before.(Image taken from CBC.ca)
- Eat Healthy
It can take a large effort to keep up with healthy eating habits during the holiday season. While the dessert trays and tablespreads look absolutely scrumptious – don’t forget the fruits and veggies. Studies show that children will eat twice as much fruit if you make it visible to them. Provide a variety of healthy snacks throughout the day – and it’ll make those sugar cookies that much sweeter.
(Image from Butter with a Side of Bread Food Blog)
- Get Enough Sleep!
With all the holiday excitement, it can be difficult for children (and parents!) to unwind from the festivities and get a good night’s rest. As much as possible, try to stick to your child’s regular bedtime schedule as often as possible to avoid potential grumpiness and hyperactivity the next day. Learn more about how much sleep kids need.
Happy Holidays to you and yours! We’ll see you in the New Year!
All schools have a responsibility to create healthy learning environments. Custodial staff are often the first line of defense in protecting the health of our students and staff. By cleaning a building effectively, they are ensuring that schools and learning centers are free from germs that spread disease, and improve air quality within a school.
However, many traditional cleaning products and equipment are not as safe as we once assumed. They smell, release chemicals into the air, and can cause burns or injury to staff if they are not handled properly. Green cleaning can be a great addition to a maintenance program because it implements practices, products, and equipment that have two goals: to protect human health, and to protect the environment. Green cleaning is effective, safe, environmentally-friendly, and cost-effective.
Green Cleaning is Effective
In trials between traditional cleaning and third-party certified green cleaning products, green cleaning products performed just as well as traditional ones. Green cleaning equipment, such as microfiber cloths and electronic sprayers for disinfectant, allow custodians to clean more efficiently by covering a bigger area in less time – an important consideration.
Green Cleaning is Safer
Janitors are injured on the job more than twice the average injury rate for all workers. By using less products through green cleaning, janitors can reduce their risk of injury on the job.
The University of Georgia compared the absences of their custodians before and after implementing
green cleaning and found a dramatic decrease in absences. When injuries did happen, they were
less serious in nature. In the San Diego Unified School District noticed less illness and allergies among the maintenance staff after they switched to green cleaning. They attributed it to safer cleaning chemicals.
Green cleaning can also protect the health of students. After Pennsylvania’s Blackhawk School District began a green cleaning program, they tracked school absenteeism. Six months into the program, they documented less absenteeism and fewer asthma attacks.
Green Cleaning is Environmentally-Friendly
By considering pollution prevention early on in the purchasing process, green cleaning programs emphasize a need to consider the waste produced by cleaning products, much of which is non-recyclable. Green cleaning also prioritizes reducing the amount of chemicals in products, using less toxic chemicals, and using chemicals that can easily be diluted with just water.
Green Cleaning is Cost-Effectiv
Green cleaning programs have proven, time and time again, to be cost-neutral if not more cost-effective for schools. When Columbia Public Schools in Missouri started their Green Cleaning program in 2009, they reduced the amount of cleaning products used, made simple changes to their cleaning practices, and modified floor finish products (which make up a lot of cleaning budgets). They saved almost 30% of their budget, and reinvested that money into purchasing green cleaning equipment such as microfiber cloths and wet mop systems.
In San Diego’s Unified School District, their budget was reduced by 20% after they negotiated a 2 year contract with their vendor to lock in prices. They switched to using products from one line of chemicals, and implemented a dilution control system to reduce the waste of products.
When schools aren’t cleaned properly, we accelerate the deterioration and reduce the efficiency of the school’s physical plant and equipment. Investing in green cleaning programs can help us maintain our school buildings, as well as protect the health of the people who work, learn, and play in them.
Many schools are already using some aspects of green cleaning as part of their maintenance practices. Making the switch to green cleaning is the smart choice – it reduces the toxic chemical burden of traditional cleaning products with more efficient, safer, and effective products, practices, and equipment.
Want to start a green cleaning program at your school but unsure where to start? Send us an email – we’re happy to help!
Healthy Schools PA Announces Recipients of
2016-2017 Healthy Schools Recognition Program
PITTSBURGH (June 20, 2017) – Healthy Schools PA, a program of Women for a Healthy Environment based in Pittsburgh, celebrates area schools as a part of their annual Healthy Schools PA Recognition Program.
Eight southwestern Pennsylvania schools are being honored for their year-long participation in the organization’s Healthy Schools Recognition Program, celebrating their progress in creating healthier and greener learning environments. “These schools are proactive and engaging the entire school community in created a healthier environment for students to learn and staff to work,” said Chelsea Holmes, WHE’s director of community education, “The ultimate goal is that each year the school works with us toward completion of additional activities and perhaps reaches a higher designation.”
This free recognition program has four recognition categories and provides a checklist of strategies schools can employ as part of their health and wellness or sustainability plans, as well as curricula. A checklist guides schools through the process. Healthy Schools PA’s assistance is provided free of charge with often little to no-cost solutions for many items on the checklist. “The checklist gave us benchmarks to reach, which was really helpful,” said Dr. Rick Walsh, principal at Wexford Elementary.
Alison Bresnahan, science teacher and Environmental Club facilitator at Kiski Area High School stated, “The checklist has given us ideas of other initiatives we can start, like a rain garden. That’s on our list for next year!”
The 2016-2017 honorees include: Eden Hall Upper Elementary and Wexford Elementary in the Pine-Richland School District; Environmental Charter School; Greenock Elementary School in the Elizabeth Forward School District; Kiski Area Upper Elementary and Kiski Area High School in the Kiski Area School District; Regency Park Elementary in the Plum Borough School District, and Shady Side Academy.
Eden Hall Upper Elementary serves a daily salad bar and implements a recycling program to establish a healthier learning environment. Classes have taken on initiatives such as energy reduction, sustainable energy, and other environmental activities.
Environmental Charter School has continued its efforts to improve sustainability and are taking their environment seriously by testing for lead and radon. They have also removed the use of artificial turf in play areas.
Greenock Elementary implemented a school-energy saving program. The school also provides summer cooking classes and incorporates the garden into the curriculum. Students select the plants for the garden and help maintain it over the summer months.
Kiski Area Upper Elementary engages their science students to think beyond the 3 R’s of Recycle, Reduce, and Reuse. Science classes started a compost system, installed a rain barrel and maintain a greenhouse. The school uses green cleaning products.
Kiski Area High School’s environment club have led the way to the school becoming sustainable through purchases from local vendors and farmers for their school’s salad bar. They have tested their water and tracked ambient air quality for harmful pollutants.
Regency Park Elementary was led by their 1st graders to create an edible garden. The entire student body participated in developing, implementing, and maintaining the garden along with composting. The edible garden symbolizes what can be done when students are given opportunities to work together across grade levels.
Shady Side Academy has incorporated the importance of the environment into their science curriculum and their environmental club is thriving. All staff have taken on the Green School initiatives and have incorporated them into their daily activities.
Wexford Elementary school continues to focus on wellness through a partnership between their PTO, school nurse, and administration. Along with the checklist for Healthy Schools PA, Wexford Elementary continues to maintain their organic garden and have added numerous health and nutrition events, including a health fair for the students.
Healthy Schools PA provides education, training, and information for parents, educators, administrators and students looking to improve the indoor and outdoor environmental profile of their schools and school districts. Registration is now open for the October 6 Healthy Schools Summit. Cost is $15 and includes meals. For more information or to register visit www.healthyschoolspa.org.
About Healthy Schools PA
Healthy Schools PA, a program of Women for a Healthy Environment, a nonprofit based in Pittsburgh, acts as an information hub and action-oriented resource with the tools, expertise, and step-by-step guidance that parents, educators, administrators, and students need to improve their school environments. Through webinars, school presentations, and delivery of environmental health curricula, the organization teaches school community members steps they can take to create a greener and healthier environment where students and staff can thrive.
Asthma at ‘epidemic’ levels in region’s schools, experts say on World Asthma Day
May 3, 2017 12:00 AM
By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The official statistics on childhood asthma in Allegheny County are daunting: 26,000 kids, or almost 13 percent, are afflicted, significantly higher than the 8.4 percent rate nationwide.
The reality may be much worse.
As high as 1 in 4 underprivileged children living near smokestack pollution sources in the Clairton, Woodland Hills and Avonworth school districts have asthma, and another 10 percent are at risk of developing it, according to preliminary study results cited by Deborah Gentile, director of allergy and asthma clinical research at Pediatric Allergy, at a news conference Tuesday marking World Asthma Day.
“The link between pollution and asthma is well-established and has been for decades,” Dr. Gentile said, speaking in front of a massive mural depicting belching smokestacks and titled “Industry” in the Allegheny County Courthouse. “We need to make cleaning the air a priority for the future of the region and for our children.”
She said asthma is the No. 1 chronic reason children miss days at school, and their absences affect both their schoolwork and their ability to earn in the future.
“Asthma is an epidemic in our schools,” said Michelle Buford, educational program specialist at Healthy Schools Pennsylvania, “but it’s one that can be addressed and suppressed with funding for improvements to indoor spaces.”
Ms. Buford said half of all schools in the U.S. have poor air quality, and school districts should have strategies in place to address the problem, including high-quality air circulation systems, use of “green” cleaning products, regular walk-through inspections to identify poor air quality areas, better air intake filters, and teacher and staff training to handle asthma attacks.
Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, and Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said that despite recent improvements in air quality, more controls on pollutants and enforcement actions against pollution violators are needed.
“It is absolutely imperative that local regulators and policymakers do more to clean the air,” Ms. Filippini said. “A permit, regulation, contract or piece of legislation is only a piece of paper if our regulators aren’t willing to enforce them.”
Ms. Wagner noted that her office’s audit of the Allegheny County Health Department last year found deficiencies in its permitting and enforcement programs.
“The Health Department’s reliance on consent decrees allows polluters to write their own ticket,” she said. “If we want to be a progressive region, we have to own up to and solve these problems.”
Patrice Tomcik, a field organizer with Moms Clean Air Force, which organized the news conference, expressed concern that the Trump administration’s rollback of air quality rules would have a devastating impact on children in the Pittsburgh region, which once again was ranked in the top 10 most polluted metropolitan areas in the nation by the American Lung Association.
“Too many mothers already watch their children struggle to take a breath,” she said.
Don Hopey: email@example.com, 412-263-1983, or on Twitter @donhopey.
“Yet in Pennsylvania, there isn’t a single law requiring public school districts to test for environmental toxins like radon in the air, lead in the paint, or lead in the drinking water if they use a municipal water supply. As a result, many schools don’t regularly conduct testing, and some have never tested at all.”