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:
- Drinking Water Quality, including Lead
- Indoor Air Quality
- Artificial Playing Surfaces
- Cleaning Products
- Construction Projects
- Renovation Projects
- Asthma Rates
- Anti-Idling Signage
- Pest Management
- Poly-chlorinated-biphenyls (PCBs)
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. We work with schools to assist with everything from environmental health education, curricula and policy and procedure reviews that will lead to a healthier school community. We also encourage schools to participate in the “1,000 Hours a Year” program by applying for mini-grants to test for lead and radon in schools.
Indeed, there are many things a school district can do to create a healthy learning environment. The investment in the health of any academic community—especially our children—will ultimately lead to decreased absenteeism, higher academic performance and increased productivity. This requires the involvement of a variety of sectors within the community, from school administrators, teachers and parent groups, to transportation providers, custodial workers and contractors. We implore federal and state elected officials along with agency leaders to prioritize funding for schools that invests in infrastructure and advances environmental health strategies. Together, we can help the region’s children thrive and learn to their fullest potential in a healthy, toxic-free learning environment.