Providing students and school staff with a healthy learning and working environment is an important component of a sustainable school. Every day, 55 million children in the United States attend school. Too often, their school buildings have poor air quality (inside and out), hazardous chemicals and other unhealthy conditions that make students (and their teachers) sick and impair their ability to learn.
On average, one out of ten children is affected by asthma, and asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism, accounting for close to 13 million missed days per school year. Pollutants such as chemicals, cleaning supplies, pesticides, and exhaust from idling buses and automobiles can contribute to and accelerate asthma and other health issues for students and school staff. This is particularly true of our underserved and poorest schools, which experience the bulk of health problems.
Eco-Schools USA strives to raise awareness and help schools remedy health-related issues such as:
• Use of pesticides and other chemicals on school lawns and playing fields
• Buses and cars idling outside schools emitting toxic exhaust fumes
• Use of cleaning supplies containing dangerous chemicals that pollute the school’s air and water
• Lack of natural lighting in classroom areas
• Toxic materials such as lead, mercury and asbestos in school buildings
• Storage and poor management of chemicals in school laboratories
What can schools do to create healthy learning environments?
Many relatively simple changes can improve air and water quality, reduce exposure to toxics, and generally improve the learning environment at school. Replacing the air filters in vacuum and heating units helps to keep indoor air cleaner and increases energy efficiency. There are many “green” cleaning products on the market that are both safe and effective. An Integrated Pest Management plan for the school grounds or a “No Idling” campaign for vehicles outside the school can make a big difference in the toxicity of the school environment. The result? Better overall health, fewer sick days, and improved learning. Check out the Top Ten Tips to see what else you can do to make your school a healthier place to learn and work.
Note: A healthy school environment is the responsibility of everyone, including school staff and administrators, students and community members. Some issues addressed by this pathway are appropriate for students to tackle, while others are best left to facility managers and administrators. Because student involvement is key to the Eco-Schools USA program, we have tried to provide you with tools and resources to help students to participate in most aspects of this complex issue. But you will also find resources that can be brought to your administration’s attention to ensure that all aspects of a healthy school are addressed at your facility.
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