Friday, November 22, 2013

School Challenges and Victories

Avoiding chemical toxins is important for people of all ages, but may be especially crucial for children and teenagers, because their brains are still developing and because smaller bodies can detoxify less before becoming overwhelmed. For this reason, schools are an important focus in the battle for cleaner, healthier air.

This is a good news/bad news post focusing on two recent school stories. The first comes from Investigate West and addresses  the dangers of building schools near large roadways and their associated pollutants. The author notes that evidence links proximity to heavily-traveled roads to asthma, lung problems and higher absenteeism among students but that, despite the evidence, policymakers in many locations have ignored clearly-presented risks and continue to build schools where exposure to traffic fumes is high.

At least six states have addressed the placement of school buildings near major traffic sources. California prohibits their construction within 500 feet of freeways under most circumstances and five other states have some sort of similar guidelines. In eight states, building near a major roadway is not prohibited, but school districts are asked to consider the issue.

The article notes that 36 states have no restrictions on building schools near environmental hazards. It also notes that in 2008 and 2009, separate groups of officials meeting in Olympia, Washington and Washington, D.C. considered restricting construction of schools near major roadways, but decided against taking action. An environmental health expert guessed at the reason. He noted, “They didn’t want to open that Pandora’s box. They knew that if they were to put exclusion criteria in there, it would raise these questions about schools already sitting in these hazardous zones, and reasonably so. Parents would say, ’My kids are at risk.’ And then what?”

The second story is a video that comes from a Fox affiliate station in Nashville and addresses cleaning products. The mother of a chemically sensitive child is interviewed and reports that, after four years of trying, she was able to convince her son’s school to replace toxic cleaning products with safer ones. A worker from Whole Foods Market is also interviewed and notes that the demand for safer cleaning products is growing. Finally, a specialist certified with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) talks about the cumulative effects of exposures and how the rates of learning disabilities, autism, asthma, and other conditions have skyrocketed.

Hurray for helpful news stories and for small victories with cleaning products. Boo for inaction on the part of policymakers. Hurray for mothers who work hard to protect their children. Boo for everything that makes it harder for them to do so. 

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