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ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS WHERE YOU LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY

Schools

What are they?

Approximately 74 million children and 3.5 million teachers spend their days in schools for nine to 10 months each year.

Why are they a concern?

Schools include both indoor and outdoor spaces that can pose health risks to students, teachers, and school staff. Poor indoor air pollution quality in schools can cause negative health effects, including asthma and respiratory problems. Mold and moisture can cause asthma and allergic reactions. Chemicals from school building or maintenance materials can cause allergic reactions or long-term health effects. Dust mites and pests residues in schools can trigger asthma and respiratory problems.

Portable classrooms, also called temporaries or trailers, can have poorly functioning or loud ventilation systems. They can have water seepage and mold growth. They may also use processed wood treated with chemicals.

Students and school staff can be exposed to diesel fumes and other outdoor air pollutants if they are outdoors where school buses are parked and idling.

School science labs may have dangerous reagents and burners that are potentially hazardous.

Who is at risk?

Students, teachers, and school staff, as well as visitors to the school, are at risk of exposure to pollutants.

What pollutants are of greatest concern?

  • Pesticides used in schools can be especially harmful to children. Children may be particularly sensitive to pesticides because their internal organs are still developing.
  • Children are also especially sensitive to lead, which may be in school drinking water.
  • Mercury may be used in many items commonly found in schools, such as thermometers, switches, thermostats, lamps, and laboratory equipment.
  • Schools in certain areas of the country may have high levels of radon, prolonged exposure to which has been linked to lung disease and cancer.
  • Older schools may contain insulation or pipes made with asbestos, which can cause lung cancer if people are exposed to high levels of it over a long period.

Reduce your risk

  • Do your children play near idling school buses?
  • Do you know if your child’s school has been checked for radon levels?
  • Does your child’s school have asbestos issues?
  • Do you know the policy for pesticide use at your child’s school?
  • Does your child have asthma?
  • Is there a bed bug or lice outbreak in your child’s school?
  • Avoid standing near parked or idling school buses.
  • Ask about radon levels in your school.
  • Encourage pest prevention and the use of pesticides only as needed.
  • Make sure that all renovations and improvements to the school are performed in a manner that minimizes exposure to chemicals.
  • Make sure there is a thorough indoor air quality management plan in your school or district.
  • Develop an asthma management plan for your school or district.
  • To prevent the spread of head lice and bed bugs at school:
    • Avoid head-to-head contact.
    • Avoid sharing clothing such as hats, scarves, and coats.
    • Avoid sharing combs or brushes.
    • Avoid lying on beds, pillows, couches, carpets, or stuffed animals that have been in contact with an infected person.
    • Show parents how to take precautions before returning their child to school after an outbreak.
  • If your child has asthma, talk to school administrators to help minimize asthma triggers.
National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases
  • Indoor Air Pollution

    Curated links to current consumer health information on the effect of indoor air pollution on human health. These English and Spanish web resources include background information, prevention and risk factors, related issues, specifics, statistics and research, clinical trials, journal articles, relevant agencies and organizations, and targeted resources for children.

  • School Health

    Curated links to current consumer information on school health. These English and Spanish web resources include background information, prevention and risk factors, related issues, specifics, statistics and research, journal articles, relevant organizations, and targeted resources for children and teenagers.

Additional Resources
  • Sensible Steps to Healthier School Environments

    Guide on school health that addresses common environmental issues, and includes a facility assessment, and information on improving energy efficiency and reducing waste.

  • Managing Pests in Schools

    Information on pest management in schools, including relevant programs, training, and certification.

  • Managing Asthma in the School Environment

    Information and links to resources that education administrators can use to manage asthma in the school environment.

  • Healthy Schools, Healthy Kids

    Resources on children's health that address establishing, maintaining, and/or enhancing a school environmental health program, with a focus on air and water quality, chemicals, building construction and maintenance, and transportation.

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