Warning: Your School May Be Hazardous to Your Health
Health issues are not a high priority in most school districts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attempts to monitor some of the risks, but schools themselves rarely receive resources or technical assistance to identify hazards, let alone fix them. Enforcement of environmental health legislation is so lax that administrators often are able to ignore potential health hazards, especially those that are difficult to measure. "With no carrot and no stick,'' says Joel Packer, a legislative specialist for the National Education Association, "it's not surprising that a lot of schools haven't tested'' for assorted hazards.
Often, teachers must struggle to get their school districts to listen to their complaints and health concerns, but, with enough public pressure, most districts respond. In Hartford, Conn., for example, teachers complained that the lack of fresh air in district schools was responsible for their headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. After much lobbying, the teachers won: The school board agreed to repair the faulty ventilation systems causing the problem.
In the following pages, Teacher Magazine examines five of the most common environmental hazards in schools: indoor air pollution, pesticides, asbestos, lead in drinking water, and radon. Each section includes sources teachers can turn to for more information.
For a general overview of the problem, teachers can order a copy of Environmental Hazards in Your School: A Resource Handbook from the EPA's Toxic Substances Control Act Hotline, (202) 554-1404. As long as the supplies last, callers can request as many as five copies of the booklet, which was prepared by the EPA, the NEA, the National Parent Teacher Association, and four other national health and education organizations.