As New York City broke new ground in announcing a testing program to measure levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) in caulk found on school windows, the Healthy Schools Network released a new report on the state of toxins in schools, “Sick Schools 2009.” Claire Barnett, Healthy Schools’ Executive Director, welcomed the PCB initiative but said that it doesn’t go far enough. “EPA regulates PCBs, and in that role is required to act,” she told Labor Press.
“This week’s announcement of a study agreed to by NYC and EPA will look only at caulk in schools as potential sources, not at other PCB sources, and not at caulk in other large buildings where it is also present. So it is a first step. Put this in context of the Manhattan Boro President’s report on long standing building violations which do not take toxics into effect, and it is easy to see that we need to pay lots more attention to the indoor environments where children spend 90% of their time.” Unhealthy schools, Barnett says, are a public health and educational crisis. More than 60% of all school children suffer poor health, more absenteeism and lower test scores due solely to the conditions of their schools. Across the country, advocates have found, schools assault children and staff with polluted air, hazardous chemicals, and other threats that affect their health, learning, and productivity. The crisis continues even though a growing body of published science shows the dire effects of unhealthy facilities and recommends ways to make them healthier. Scattered states and districts are making progress, but that’s not enough. Sick schools are a national emergency that demands a broad, national solution.
Released by the National Coalition for Healthier Schools and coordinated by Healthy Schools Network, “Sick Schools 2009” assesses state by state school conditions and hones in on policies in 20 states and the District of Columbia. No other source at the state or federal level contains this wealth of data on state capacity and children at risk —- not even the federal agencies. Fewer than half the states have any capacity to address needs. Alone among the federal agencies, EPA has developed the expertise and staffing to make school environments healthier. It also is authorized to write federal guidelines on school environments for the states, as well as a newly appointed Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson committed to children’s environmental health. But Congress continues to stint on funding EPA’s voluntary programs, such as those to protect children and to improve school facilities. Sick Schools makes an eloquent, irrefutable case for supporting EPA’s child health programs and addressing long-ignored environmental health issues at schools.
Photo: Claire L. Barnett, MBA, Executive Director, Healthy Schools Network, Inc.