Meet our KEYS Americorps Member, Evelyn!

My name is Evelyn, and I’m the newest addition to the Women for a Healthy Environment (WHE) team! I am serving with WHE as an AmeriCorps member until June 2020. AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that take different approaches to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. My AmeriCorps program is called KEYS, which stands for Knowledge to Empower Youth to Success and is focused specifically on serving at-risk youth in Allegheny County through mentoring, tutoring, and community service in a variety of schools and community organizations. While KEYS members have been serving in Pittsburgh since 1995, I just moved here in August from Northern Virginia after obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in social work from James Madison University. I am incredibly excited to be serving here in such a diverse and lively city

Through the KEYS program, my role with WHE is to facilitate Eco-Schools programming in Pittsburgh public schools. Eco-Schools is a program of the National Wildlife Federation that focuses on environment-based learning and hands-on experiences to empower students to make sustainable choices in their homes, schools, and communities. Students learn about air quality, water, energy, consumption, and other topic areas before brainstorming a school-wide project with the intent to improve their school’s environmental impact and become more sustainable.

Eco-Schools is the largest global sustainable schools program, reaching more than 50,000 schools worldwide! However, currently no Pittsburgh Public Schools are certified eco-schools. Our goal is to get a least one of these schools (if not more!) to become a certified eco-school before the 2019-2020 school year comes to an end. Through this program, schools have found creative and innovative ways to recycle, conserve, and reduce environmental impacts, which can have positive effects school-wide and ripple into the community as well!

We have recently started our programming in Pittsburgh Faison K-5 in Homewood. We are enrichment partners with The Maker’s Clubhouse after-school program, and work with a group of 3rd-5th graders every Monday and Tuesday. Using STEAM and hands-on curriculum, these eco-students have explored the biodiversity on their school grounds, designed landfill liners, constructed towers out of recyclable items, conducted a school-wide energy audit, and learned about how our lungs work to defend our bodies against pollutants!

Next week, our students will learn about water quality and pollution, and will then attempt to construct their own water filters! Within a few weeks our students will be brainstorming project ideas for school sustainability. Whether our students choose to install rain barrels, create a pollinator garden, or start school-wide initiatives to conserve energy, our overall goal for this program is to teach our students that they can make positive changes in their schools and neighborhoods and empower them to continue to make sustainable choices to improve the overall well-being of their communities.


What is Integrated Pest Management?

Integrated Pest Management 101

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) revolves around six essential components: monitoring, recordkeeping, action levels, prevention, tactics criteria, and evaluation.
IPM is a program that reduces or eliminates the use of pesticides in order to minimize the toxicity of and exposure to harmful chemicals.

Over-reliance on pesticides exposes children and staff to dangerous chemicals. School IPM is a powerful tool for addressing these challenges. In fact, schools transitioning to IPM have reduced pest complaints and pesticide use by over 70%!

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends school IPM as a proven approach for creating healthy, safe spaces for students and staff.

Who regulates IPM programs in Pennsylvania? What are schools required to do?

School districts, intermediate units, area vocational-technical schools, and childcare centers are considered public places. As such, they are required by state law (Act 36 of 2002) to develop an IPM plan. The Pennsylvania IPM Program is administered by the Penn State Extension. 

School IPM requirements are enforced by the Health and Safety program of the Department of Agriculture (PDA). This program manages the registration of pesticide products as well as the certification of pesticide applicators.  There are regional PDA offices that manage pesticide applicator licenses – and only licensed applicators are allowed to spray pesticides on school grounds. In addition, schools are required to post clear signage on school grounds and communicate with the school community about the dates of pesticide application (at least 72 hours before application is scheduled to begin).

What does the research say about pesticides and children’s health?

Pesticides can cause short and long term health risks. Exposure can lead to pesticide poisoning, which is under-diagnosed in the U.S. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, about 10,000 children experience pesticide poisoning each year. Nationally, children between 6-11 years are found to have higher levels of pesticide residue in their bodies than any other group of people.

Of the 40 most commonly used pesticides in schools, 28 are known carcinogens, 14 are linked with
endocrine disruption, and 26 could lead to adverse reproductive effects. Recent research shows the use of RoundUp, a popular pesticide containing glyphosate, is becoming more and more common in schools. The World Health Organization declared in 2015 that glyphosate is a probable carcinogen.

What is the Hypersensitivity Registry and how do I sign myself/my child/my family members up?

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) maintains a registry of individuals
hypersensitive to pesticides. It is a listing of locations for people who have been verified by a
physician to be excessively or abnormally sensitive to pesticides. These hypersensitive individuals
may request to have listings of their home, place of employment, school (if a student), and vacation
home placed in the Registry.

Once you are listed in the Registry, pesticide businesses are required to make notifications to you
12 to 72 hours in advance of any pesticide application to an attached structure or an outdoor above
ground application that they may make within 500 feet of any location that you have listed in the
Registry. The notification may be made by speaking to an adult through personal contact, by
telephone contact, leaving a message on your answering device, by certified mail, by posting a
notice on the front door at the listed location or speaking to an adult at the alternate phone number
you listed in the Registry.
The business must provide you their: business name, address, telephone number, the
pesticide brand name and common name (if available), EPA Registration number of the pesticide,
the location of the application and the proposed date and time of the application. The proposed
application time may not exceed a 24-hour period.

Obtain an application, which is available online, from your local
pesticide businesses, or by contacting any PDA Office (listed on the back). Make arrangements with
someone to be your alternate contact point. This person must be willing to receive calls when
applicators cannot contact you directly and forward the information on to you.

What else can I do as a concerned parent/teacher/student/school administrator/community member?

Meet with your school’s PTA and administrative office to ask about their IPM policies. PA state regulations require schools to implement IPM plans and alert parents and staff of chemical pesticide application prior to use. Request your school district to list the pest management company they use when pesticide application is required, and have them publicly share a list of pesticides to be used prior to application.

Work with your local Parent Teacher Association and school administration office to encourage your school to adopt a “no pesticides” policy for school grounds and help choose safer alternatives for pesticides when pesticides must be used.

Ensure that staff applying pesticides in your school are licensed by the state of PA. IPM plans often fail because school staff are not properly educated on the purpose and benefits of IPM strategies as opposed to pesticides.

Healthy Schools PA is proud to offer free technical assistance and training to school districts who want to create stronger IPM programs in their schools or child care centers. Contact us at if you are interested in learning more!

Good Up High but Bad Nearby: The Facts on Ground-level Ozone

You may have remembered learning about ozone in elementary school. Ozone is a odorless and clear gas made up of 3 oxygen atoms. Ozone gas makes up an entire layer in our atmosphere, where it protects our Earth from harmful UV rays. A few years ago, scientists and citizens grew concerned about an emerging hole in the ozone layer. Recent studies show that our ozone layer is repairable and that the hole in our ozone layer is closing year by year.

Ozone can also form closer to the ground. Ground-level ozone is created through a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  NOx and VOCs are released by cars, power plants, refineries, and other industrial sources. When heated by sunlight, ground-level ozone is created. This is why ground-level ozone levels can get especially high during warm, sunny days.

This graphic depicts the formation of ozone from car and factory emissions

What are the health effects of ozone?

Ozone is harmful to both humans and the environment. Exposure to ground-level ozone can create many respiratory problems in all individuals, including wheezing, cough, chest pain, throat and nose irritation, and inflammation. Long-term exposure to ozone can actually scar lung tissue and damage your lungs. Children are especially vulnerable to high ground-level ozone because they are lower to the ground, breathe more air per pound, and their lungs are still developing.

Ozone can also negatively affect the health of active adults, the elderly, and those with immune-compromised diseases and asthma.

Take action to protect your health on high ozone days.

There are several actions you can take to protect your and your loved one’s health during days where ground-level ozone is high.

  • Staying indoors and avoiding high-exertion activities are recommended.
  • Carpool with friends and family members if you are running errands or getting places.
  • For children with asthma, make sure asthma controller medication is nearby or taken before going outside.
  • Avoid burning wood fires or burning trash.
  • Conserve electricity and avoid doing yard work with gasoline-fueled tools.



Safer Sports Fields: A Win for Healthy Schools!

More and more recently, PA schools are opting to install artificial turf sports fields without considering the benefits of a natural grass field.

Often, the arguments against natural grass fields rely on the perceived costs and efforts of maintaining a natural grass field. But natural grass fields, when maintained with a specialized plan combining best practices of drainage, soil aeration, and grass selection, can sustain high usage while reducing hours of maintenance. Best of all, grass fields are often safer and healthier for student athletes to play on. We have come a long way in understanding the science behind maintaining a successful high-use grass sports field, including choosing grass that fits your school’s unique environment, and using innovative techniques so that groundskeepers and field managers work smarter, not harder.

You can watch our video with pediatrician and children’s environmental health expert Dr. Phil Landrigan discussing artificial turf in schools here.

Artificial turf fields can come with a host of unintended negative consequences. Depending on the in-fill material, artificial turf fields can release a long list of toxins when heated. Crumb rubber, made from recycled tires, and synthetic rubber, remain the most common in-fill materials for artificial turf fields. When heated, these rubber-based fillers can release 1,3-Butadiene, a major chemical component of tires – that burnt rubber tire smell – and a known carcinogen. Butadiene is not the only chemical released when rubber in-fill is heated; a meta-analysis by the Environment and Human Health Inc. found 92 chemicals of which 11 are known carcinogens.

Another health hazard that comes with artificial turf fields are the extreme temperatures that they can reach. On hot days, artificial turf fields absorb and hold heat, and can reach temperatures up to 190 degrees Fahrenheit really quickly. A turf field study by the University of Arkansas found that when the outdoor ambient temperature was 98 degrees Fahrenheit, an artificial turf field read at 199 degrees Fahrenheit – 100 degrees hotter! These sustained high temperatures have caused heat stroke and dehydration for student athletes, especially for younger school-aged children who are playing hard.

Lastly, artificial turf fields also need to be maintained. If in-fill isn’t continuously replaced, the risk for concussions can increase. The in-fill pieces are small and can be kicked up, cause scrapes and bruises. Turf fields also use a variety of chemicals to be maintained. Since most artificial grass and in-fill are made of flammable materials, harmful flame retardants are often added. Disinfectants are also sprayed on these fields as a recommended preventive maintenance activity.

Some communities are beginning to proactively ban crumb rubber artificial turf fields. If your school is looking for a new sports field to sustain high-use and longer play times, push your school board, athletic directors, and buildings and grounds directors to consider some alternatives. The Toxic Use Reduction Institute has an evidence-based booklet presenting the newest evidence and comparing different in-fill alternatives.



“A Healthy School for Every Child”: National Healthy Schools Day 2019

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!

To read our State of the Schools Report, click here.
To learn more about our 1,000 Hours program, click here.
To participate in our Healthy Schools Recognition Program, click here.


Speak Out to Get the Lead Out!

Yesterday, our Executive Director, Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis delivered public comments at the Pittsburgh City Council’s meeting discussing lead in schools. Read them below:

Press Release photo

“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.

Lead in Water

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.


Lessons Learned from Seeds of Change Conference

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.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

From the group of students I was invited to learn from, I heard about:

  1. how a school building can be used as a tool for learning and practicing sustainability (Eden Hall Upper Elementary School – Pine Richland School District),
  2. how a workforce development program through Operation Better Block helps provide high  schoolers with skill-building and community engagement (Homewood and Braddock communities),
  3. how community art initiatives can bring people together to help reimagine what development in their neighborhood could look like (Nazareth Prep),
  4. how 5th and 4th graders can bridge their disagreements and work together to make their very own pallet garden (Manchester Academic Charter School), and
  5. 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.


Happy, Healthy Holidays

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!

  1. 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?Related image
  2. Volunteer
    Image result for holiday volunteering
    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.
  3. 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 
  4. 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 result for holiday vegetables
    (Image from Butter with a Side of Bread Food Blog)
  5. 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!


Making the Case for Green Cleaning

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.

Final Thoughts   

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!



Promoting Green Cleaning in Healthy Schools

Maryland Environmental Health Network: Green Cleaning in Schools Toolkit