Who is making sure school buildings are health environments?

Mar 8, 2014

A new book is shining a spotlight on the environmental issues within our nation’s schools.

"Toxic Schoolhouse," is an anthology that raises a number of issues including the absence of oversight of schools by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Madeleine Scammell, co-editor of the compilation, says the EPA has no regulatory authority in the local school, so watchdog responsibilities too often fall to teachers and parents.

“In the lead case study, the superintendent of schools was asked why didn’t you deal with this sooner? And his response was that in a democracy school officials depend on the public to raise concerns of this nature," said Scammell. "But if you have a public that’s struggling to feed their children three meals a day, looking for these new problems is not high on the list of priorities.”

Scammell says building materials, ventilation systems, and the environmental legacy of school sites can all impact on the health and safety of teachers and students.  In particular, shes says triggers such as poor indoor air quality and exposure to chemicals can lead to increased rates of asthma.

She says addressing environmental contributors would help to take some strain off school nurses who are already dealing with budget cuts and heavy workloads.

“If we were able to treat the primary cause of these asthma episodes by reducing asthma triggers in the school, we would not have to be so reliant on nurses to, they could think more about primary prevention,” she said.