Environment & Human Health Inc. (EHHI), a nonprofit organization made up of doctors, public health professionals, and policy experts, has released a list of 12 areas where schools should take extra care to protect the health of their students.

“Children spend an enormous amount of their waking hours in the school environment,” EHHI said. Because of their small size and special physiology, children are more susceptible to environmental hazards, the group warns, and therefore schools should exercise caution in the following areas:

1. Pesticides.

Pesticides are toxic, and students should have as little exposure to them as possible. If you must use pesticides, notify parents and teachers a day in advance and use the least toxic materials possible. No one should be allowed back into the building or on school grounds until the residue is gone. Only trained and licensed professionals should be allowed to spray pesticides.

2. Art supplies and art rooms.

Art rooms should have proper ventilation. Many art supplies are toxic and become airborne, irritating the lungs and bronchial tubes. Ventilating systems should have 15 to 20 cubic feet of outdoor air per minute per occupant. Make sure that the contaminated air does not circulate into other parts of the building through the ventilation system.

3. New carpeting.

When you order new carpeting, make sure the carpet—as well as its backing—is formaldehyde-free. In addition, the installer should be required to use formaldehyde-free and non-toxic adhesives. Formaldehyde is a respiratory irritant, a sensitizer to other chemicals, and a carcinogen. Many carpets, backings, and adhesives have a great deal of formaldehyde.

4. New construction and renovations.

Good indoor air quality should be one of the chief criteria in planning a project. The contract should require the least toxic materials that are practical and call for work schedules that will not put children and teachers at risk because of compromised indoor air quality. Avoid wood products that use large amounts of formaldehyde as bonding agents, such as particle board. New furniture can also be a source of formaldehyde, and it, too, should be required to be formaldehyde-free, just as with new carpeting.

5. Playground equipment with processed or treated wood.

Processed or treated wood is often used for playground equipment and for picnic tables. Treated wood has been infused with copper and arsenic in order to deter pest infestation, which is why it can be placed directly on or into the ground. The arsenic, in particular, leaches from the wood and is a human carcinogen. If you’ve already invested in products made of processed wood, you should paint the surfaces to stop the arsenic from leaching. Students should not be exposed to processed wood that has not been sealed.

6. Exhaust from buses or motor vehicles.

Make sure the air intakes of ventilating systems are not in an area where cars or buses idle so that incoming air is laden with diesel and car exhaust. Also, make sure children are not waiting at bus stops where many buses are idling for long periods of time.

7. Damp areas, and areas of damp carpeting.

Mold can grow in areas of dampness, and many children and adults are allergic to this mold. Molds can also cause asthma in many people; therefore, wet areas should be remediated.

8. Cleaning products used by the janitorial staff.

Cleaning products should be the least toxic available that will do the appropriate job.

9. Chemistry labs.

Chemistry labs and other labs using hazardous materials should be properly ventilated, making sure the exhaust does not enter other parts of the building. Chemicals should be kept locked up safely from students.

10. Copy machines.

Copy machines discharge ozone and therefore should be well ventilated. They are often placed in small, unventilated spaces with people working near them. Ozone is harmful to lung function.

11. Testing for radon and lead.

Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless radioactive gas that emanates from rock and soil content in the ground. At high enough levels, it is a human lung carcinogen. Radon can be easily tested for and rather inexpensively remediated. Also, drinking water should be tested for lead that can come from pipes with lead soldering.

12. Tobacco smoke.

Schools should be smoke-free environments, period.


Environment & Human Health Inc.