By Deirdre Imus, 4-3-2017
Kids spend a lot of time at school. Aside from their home, it is likely the place they spend the most time, and are most comfortable being themselves. Kids should feel physically good at school, too; not just because they’re learning and nourishing friendships, but because the building itself is free of potentially toxic pollutants.
About 20 percent of the U.S. population – more than 62 million children and adults – are in schools every day. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), half of schools have indoor pollution problems that are largely avoidable. To make matters worse, asthma and allergy rates are on the rise in this country, and so is autism prevalence, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This year marks the 15th annual National Healthy Schools Day, which will occur on Tuesday, April 4. It has never been more important to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. School officials, teachers, parents, facilities staff, and community organizations need to band together to protect the children of this country both in body and in mind. Indoor pollution harms both.
There are many sources of rampant pollution inside schools: hazardous cleaning products; water-damaged (and possibly mold-harboring) carpets; toxic paint and floor finishes; carcinogenic building materials; air fresheners and room deodorizers; dust; pests like cockroaches and rats, and the chemicals commonly used to eradicate them – to name just a few.
In some cases, solving the problem is easy: start using nontoxic cleaning supplies; discard old carpets; stop spraying harmful air fresheners; take steps to prevent and eliminate dust in classrooms, gymnasiums, lunch rooms, or libraries; and opt for integrative pest management (IPM) techniques, rather than chemical-laden pesticides or insecticides, to purge bug or rodent infestations.
In other instances, improving indoor air quality is trickier – but no less pressing. Insulation, paint, and floor finishes laden with chemicals infiltrate the air of any indoor environment, and impact human health. Additionally, head lice impacts up to 12 million children 3-11 years of age, according to the CDC. Current recommended treatments include carcinogenic substances to which lice are becoming resistant. Rather than expose children and their caretakers to dangerous chemicals, safer, nontoxic, equally effective alternatives for head lice removal should be the standard of care.
It makes no sense to expose children to these carcinogenic agents during a time when they need their brain cells most. Asthma, allergies, and autism have all been referred to as epidemics in this country. All three, along with other health conditions such as headaches and cancer, have been linked to poor indoor air quality. Whether exposure to these pollutants causes a health problem or exacerbates it, the fact remains that something must be done.
The saying goes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Taking time to identify, address, and improve indoor air quality in our schools may not only prevent millions of children and the adults who teach them from getting sick – it will also save schools money in the long run. In most cases, it is less expensive to prevent pollution than to incur the enormous costs of remediating it.
Please join The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® in supporting National Healthy Schools Day on Tuesday, April 4. For more information go to nationalhealthyschoolsday.org