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Children at School

Children spend an enormous amount of their waking hours in the school environment. Children are a vulnerable population due to their small size and special physiology, and therefore it is important that schools be as environmentally safe as possible. Many of the areas of concern below do not actually cost money to implement, they are simply new ways to look at different situations. Some, on the other hand, depending on the physical situation of a particular school, will cost money. Environment & Human Health, Inc. is deeply aware of the monetary constraints, and therefore realizes that some of the suggestions will not be able to be implemented immediately, but instead, will take place over time.

1.  Pesticides.

Pesticides are toxic and children should have as little exposure to these chemicals as possible. If a school must use these products they should notify parents and teachers a day in advance and use the least toxic materials possible. People should not be allowed back into the buildings until the residue is gone. Only trained and licensed people should be allowed to spray pesticides. --Outside grounds and fields where children play should not be treated with pesticides unless there is a dire reason for an application, and then prior notice should be given to teachers and parents.

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. It is recommended that ventilating systems have between 15 and 20 cubic feet of outdoor air per minute per occupant. Caution should be used to make sure that the contaminated air not circulate into the other parts of the building through the ventilation system.

3. New Carpeting.

When new carpeting is ordered, the carpet, as well as the carpet backing, should be required to be 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 and out-gas for long periods of time. Children should not be exposed at all, no less over long periods.

4. New Construction and Renovations.

Good indoor air quality should be one of the chief criteria in planning a project. The contract should require least toxic materials that are practical and work schedules that will not put children and teachers at risk because of compromised indoor air quality. Particular attention should be given to avoiding 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 therefore, it too, should be specified 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 impregnated 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 a school has already invested in products made out of processed wood they should paint the surfaces to stop the arsenic from leaching. Children should not be exposed to processed wood that has not been sealed.

6. Exhaust from Buses or Motor Vehicles.

Make sure that the air intake of the 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 cause asthma in many people; therefore wet areas should be remediated.

8. Cleaning Products Used by the Janitorial Service in the School.

Cleaning products should be the least toxic available that will do the appropriate work that needs to be done.

9. Chemistry Laboratories.

Chemistry laboratories and other labs using hazardous materials should be properly ventilated, making sure that the exhaust does not enter other parts of the building.

10. Copy Machines.

Copy machines out-gas 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.

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