Toxic dangers in schools

8 Jul

Moi blogs about education issues so the reader could be perplexed sometimes because moi often writes about other things like nutrition, families, and personal responsibility issues. Why? The reader might ask? Because children will have the most success in school if they are ready to learn. Ready to learn includes proper nutrition for a healthy body and the optimum situation for children is a healthy family. Many of societies’ problems would be lessened if the goal was a healthy child in a healthy family. Environmental Lawyers.Com describes the types of environmental risks in schools in the article, Environmental Hazards at School:

An environmental hazard is a chemical or pollutant in the environment that causes you to become ill or injured. While American’s have become more conscious of hazardous material in the environment as a result of the rise in environmental litigation, plenty of environmental hazards still exist.

Types of Environmental Hazards in Schools

In 1954, the school board in Niagara Falls New York built a school on top of 21,000 tons of toxic waste. The school boards knew about the toxic waste, and choose to build the 99th Street School anyway. This school was part of the Love Canal Disaster, and students began coming down with illnesses including asthma, epilepsy, and even leukemia.

While Love Canal was a long time ago, potential environmental hazards still exist in schools today. Many of these hazards result from improper retrofitting of school buildings, and could potentially give rise to environmental litigation if students develop health problems as a result of exposure to contaminants.

Lead Paint Exposure: Some older buildings, including schools, still have lead paint. Exposure to lead paint can lead to learning disabilities and other problems, especially in children.

Contaminated Water: Schools that have lingering lead paint may also have older lead arsenic pipes. The lead in these pipes can lead to contaminants in the drinking water. While most schools test water periodically, it may be a good idea to send your child with bottled water to avoid lead effects.

Toxic Mold: Like lead paint, toxic mold and mold poisoning is a problem that plagues older buildings. Mold exposure can cause mold symptoms ranging from asthma to a severe lung infection that makes breathing difficult.

Asbestos: Prior to the 1970’s, asbestos was widely used in insulation and building tiles. Removal of asbestos is dangerous and expensive, and as a result there is still asbestos present in many schools. The EPA does not mandate that schools removal all asbestos, but does require schools with asbestos material to have periodic inspections and file regular reports on the results.

Pesticides: Pesticides are used on the lawns and grounds of schools. Children may be more susceptible to injury from exposure to pesticides, since their brains are still developing.

Air Pollution: Tightly sealed schools without proper ventilation can also create situations where children are exposed to airborne hazards. The EPA has provided an Indoor Air Quality Kit for schools designed to help schools test the air quality and ensure it is safe for kids to breathe.

Environmental Justice and Hazards in Schools

Some evidence suggests that economically disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to be more adversely affected by environmental hazards. School buildings in lower income neighborhoods tend to be older, and there may be less money for construction and updating the building. As a result, there may be more environmental contaminants and hazards present.

The EPA recognizes this disproportionate impact, and Environmental Justice Groups are working to help correct the inequalities.

The Healthy Schools Coalition advocates for healthier and safer environments in schools.

The position paper of the Healthy Schools Coalition describes the following environmental issues:

Coalition for Healthier Schools

Position Statement and Policy Recommendations

providing the platform and the forum for school environmental health…since

School factors affecting health

Many school environmental factors can affect the health of children and employees. Too many schools are sited near industrial plants or toxic waste sites; some are sited on abandoned landfills. Many school facilities are poorly maintained. Schools are more densely occupied and more intensively used than office buildings, magnifying problems. Thousands of schools are severely overcrowded, which compromises ventilation systems, acoustics, food service, recess, and sanitation and lavatories. Children also spend extra hours in vehicles or buses when their schools are beyond safe walking and biking distances.

The U.S. EPA has estimated that up to half of all schools have problems with indoor environmental quality. Children and staff are all affected by:

polluted indoor air and outdoor air

toxic chemical and pesticide uses; chemical spills

mold infestations

asbestos, radon

lead in paint and drinking water

inadequate chemical management

poor siting, design, engineering

hazardous materials purchased and stored onsite

heavy metals and other toxics, such as mercury, CCA, PCBs

Results of unhealthy schools:

60% of all children suffer health and learning problems due solely to the conditions of their schools.

child and staff health problems and absenteeism

asthma, allergies, headaches, fatigue, nausea, rashes and chronic illnesses

Sick Building Syndrome/Building Related Illness

more medication use by children and staff

learning and behavior difficulties that worsen

greater liability for school districts

lower achievement,

And, reduced revenues due to poor attendance.

Asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism from chronic illness. Asthma is also a leading work-related disease of teachers and custodians—they get it on the job.

Coalition Position

When the nation is committed to raising academic performance and honoring each child’s potential, and to improving the environment of every neighborhood, we have a moral obligation to protect all children and to accommodate children and personnel who already have impairments. To promote child and adult health, improve education, and create healthier communities, all schools should:

adopt high performance design and siting standards

promote and sustain quality indoor air

use safer cleaning and maintenance products

use non-toxic products for instruction

use integrated pest control and weed control

provide quality lighting, including daylighting

provide good acoustics and noise control

select durable, easy-to-clean flooring

offer wholesome food and exercise opportunities

provide safe spaces for outdoor activities

build or retrofit facilities for energy and other resource efficiencies

remediate lead, CCA, PCBs, mold infestations, and clean out old chemicals.

Tim Walker and Cindy Long report in NEA Today:

An estimated 14 million American children attend public schools that are in urgent need of  extensive repair or replacement and have unhealthy environmental conditions, including poor air quality, unsafe drinking water and inadequate safety systems.

The Agency for Toxic Effects and Disease Registry (ATEDR) has some good information about the effects of toxins on children.

In Principles of Pediatric Environmental Health: What Are Special Considerations Regarding Toxic Exposures to Young and School-age Children, as Well as Adolescents? ATEDR reports:

Young Child (2 to 6 years old)

With the newly acquired ability to run, climb, ride tricycles, and perform other mobile and exploratory activities, the young child’s environment expands, as does the risk of exposure.

Many of a young child’s toxic exposures may occur from ingestion. If the child’s diet is deficient in iron or calcium, the small intestine avidly absorbs lead….

School-aged Children (6 to 12 years old)

School-aged children spend increasingly greater amounts of time in outdoor, school, and after-school environments. They may be exposed to outdoor air pollution, including

  • widespread air pollutants,
  • ozone, particulates, and
  • nitrogen and sulfur oxides.

These result primarily from fossil fuel combustion. Although these pollutants concentrate in urban and industrial areas, they are windborne and distribute widely. Local pockets of intense exposure may result from toxic air and soil pollutants emanating from hazardous waste sites, leaking underground storage tanks, or local industry. One example of a localized toxic exposure adverse effect was seen in children exposed to high doses of lead released into the air from a lead smelter in Idaho. When tested 15 to 20 years later, these children showed reduced neurobehavioral and peripheral nerve function [ATSDR 1997b]….

In addition, some school age children engage in activity such as

  • lawn care,
  • yard work, and
  • trash pickup.

These and other work situations may put them at risk for exposures to hazardous substances such as pesticides used to treat lawns.

Adolescents (12 to 18 years old)

But nothing more than just adolescent behavior may result in toxic exposures. Risk-taking behaviors of adolescents may include exploring off-limit industrial waste sites or abandoned buildings. For example, in one reported case, teenagers took elemental mercury from an old industrial facility and played with and spilled the elemental mercury in homes and cars [Nadakavukaren 2000]. Teens may also climb utility towers or experiment with psychoactive substances (inhalant abuse, for example). Cigarette smoking and other tobacco use often begins during adolescence. For more information about adolescent tobacco use see CDC Office of Smoking and Health at

Compared with younger children, adolescents are more likely to engage in hobbies and school activities involving exposure to

  • solvents,
  • caustics, or
  • other dangerous chemicals.

Few schools include basic training in industrial hygiene as a foundation for safety at work, at school, or while enjoying hobbies.

Many adolescents may encounter workplace hazards through after-school employment. Working adolescents tend to move in and out of the labor market, changing jobs and work schedules in response to employer needs or their own life circumstances [Committee on the Health and Safety Implications of Child Labor 1998]. In the United States, adolescents work predominately in retail and service sectors. These are frequently at entry-level jobs in

  • exterior painting of homes,
  • fast-food restaurants,
  • gas stations and automotive repair shops,
  • nursing homes,
  • parks and recreation, and
  • retail stores.

Such work may expose adolescents to commercial cleaners, paint thinners, solvents, and corrosives by inhalation or splashes to the skin or eyes. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimated that, on average, 67 workers under age 18 died from work-related injuries each year during 1992-2000 [NIOSH 2003]. In 1998, an estimated 77,000 required treatment in hospital emergency departments [NIOSH 2003]….

Metabolic Vulnerability of Adolescents

Metabolic processes change during adolescence. Changes in cytochrome P450 expression [Nebert and Gonzalez 1987] result in a decrease in the metabolism rate of some xenobiotics dependent on the cytochrome CYP (P450) – for example, the concentration of theophylline increases in blood [Gitterman and Bearer 2001]. The metabolic rate of some xenobiotics is reduced in response to the increased secretion of growth hormone, steroids, or both that occur during the adolescent years [Gitterman and Bearer 2001]. The implications of these changes on the metabolism of environmental contaminants are areas of intense research. By the end of puberty, the metabolism of some xenobiotics achieves adult levels.

Puberty results in the rapid growth, division, and differentiation of many cells; these changes may result in vulnerabilities. Profound scientific and public interest in endocrine disruptors – that is, chemicals with hormonal properties that mimic the actions of naturally occurring hormones – reflects concerns about the effect of chemicals on the developing reproductive system. Even lung development in later childhood and adolescence may be disrupted by chronic exposure to air pollutants, including

  • acid vapors,
  • elemental carbon,
  • nitrogen dioxide, and
  • particulate matter [Gauderman et al. 2004].


Principles of Pediatric Environmental Health
What Are Special Considerations Regarding Toxic Exposures to Young and School-age Children, as Well as Adolescents?

Course: WB2089
CE Original Date: February 15, 2012
CE Expiration Date: February 15, 2014
Download Printer-Friendly version Adobe PDF file [PDF – 819 KB]

The Environmental Protection Agency is tasked with dealing with environmental toxins.

The Environmental Protection Agency has many resources:

Healthy School Environment Resources

Healthy School Environment Resources is your gateway to on-line resources to help facility managers, school administrators, architects, design engineers, school nurses, parents, teachers and staff address environmental health issues in schools.

Chemical Use & Management
Chemical Purchasing, Chemical Cleanout, Construction, Chemical Management Regulation, On-Site Chemical Management, Sources of Chemicals in Schools, Pest Management

Design, Construction and Renovation
Financing, Asthma, Indoor Air Quality, Construction, Commissioning, Mold & Moisture, Waste Reduction, Drinking Water, Renovation, Chemicals, Recycling, Siting, High Performance Schools, Ventilation, Environmentally Preferable Products, Pest Management, Radon, Cleaning

Energy Efficiency
Ventilation, Construction

Environmental Education

Facility Operations and Maintenance
Mold & Moisture, Renovation, Indoor Air Quality, Pest Management, Ventilation, Cleaning, Construction, Recycling, High Performance Schools

Indoor Environmental Quality
Mercury, PCBs, Asbestos, Chemicals, Lead, Pest Management, High Performance Schools, Ventilation, Indoor Air Quality, Environmentally Preferable Products, Asthma, Mold & Moisture, Construction, Radon

Legislation and Regulation

Outdoor Air Pollution
Ultraviolet Radiation, Asbestos, Diesel School Buses

Portable Classrooms
Commissioning, High Performance Schools, Ventilation, Indoor Air Quality, Cleaning, Construction


School Facility Assessment Tools

Recycling, Composting, Construction, Waste Reduction

Waste Reduction

Construction, Groundwater, Water Quality, Stormwater, Drinking Water, Water Conservation

This society will not have healthy children without having healthy home and school environments.

A healthy child in a healthy family who attends a healthy school in a healthy neighborhood ©

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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