Monday, December 21, 2015

Wrestling with Synthetic Turf

Recent news reports about the potential toxicity of synthetic turf playing fields have raised concerns for parents, coaches and young athletes about the long-term impact of exposure. Supporters of synthetic turf fields cite their durability, all-weather availability and low maintenance costs as factors in their favor.

But evidence is growing that these fields - particularly the recycled tire crumb rubber used to cushion their surface - present real and significant risks to young athletes, who are more vulnerable to environmental toxins than adults.

Does anyone really know for certain? Establishing cause-and-effect proof in the world of environmental exposures is almost impossible, as we are all exposed to so many toxins in our everyday life. And it can take decades for researchers to design studies, secure funding, conduct their analysis and publish the results.

In the meantime, it might be wise to adopt the Precautionary Principle that every parent knows instinctively: strong evidence of harm, rather than absolute proof of harm, should be the trigger for action. In other words, better safe than sorry.

A new video about the potential health risks of synthetic turf is available now on YouTube. If the controversy over synthetic turf has reached your school, this is definitely something you should watch.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Climate Change and Schools

Climate change is on everyone’s minds these days. And the climate of schools has also been receiving a great deal of attention.

Of course, when most people refer to "school climate," they're speaking in terms of children’s physical and emotional health and safety, and how this impacts their ability to learn. We know that when kids feel healthy and safe, they do better in school.

So we applaud the effort by parents, teachers and school staff to build children's self esteem and help them develop good learning habits and positive relationships, while also addressing bullying and harassment.

But we should not underestimate the role their physical environment plays in their lives.  

There is growing scientific evidence of a link between toxins in the school environment and the increase in children’s chronic illnesses, including asthma, behavioral problems, learning deficits and even certain types of cancer. More than 14 million school absences each year can be attributed to asthma and respiratory illnesses alone. 

And when kids fall behind due to absence, it impacts not only their academic achievement and progression, but their social and emotional well-being as well.

So perhaps it's time to broaden our view of "school climate." Let’s recognize children’s unique vulnerability to environmental toxins, and the impacts that chronic exposures to these toxins have on their health. Let's focus on three major exposures commonly found in most schools: diesel exhaust from idling school buses, harsh chemicals in conventional cleaning products, and pesticides used on playing fields.

This is the goal of The ChildSafe School. After all, protecting the environmental health and safety of students (and staff) enhances learning by increasing attendance and, in turn, generates a positive school experience by raising the level of achievement and overall sense of well-being. 

Changing a school's climate by ensuring that every school is a ChildSafe school is a win-win for everyone.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Workplace Safety at School

The 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act, aka "OSHA," is the federal law that protects workers in the workplace. It requires employers to provide working conditions free of hazards and seeks to "assure safe and healthful working conditions for men and women."

OHSA assures an employee’s right to know about any chemical hazards they may be exposed to through the Hazard Communication standard. This standard requires employers to inform and train employees about hazardous chemicals or substances to which they may be at risk for exposure while at work. In addition, to monitor compliance, OSHA inspectors make unannounced on-site checks to ensure workplace safety.

But what about our children in schools? How are they being protected?

Let’s consider that a child’s school is his or her workplace. It’s a place where they spend at least 1/3 or more of their day, day after day – in classrooms, in and around school bus loading zones and on playgrounds or sports fields.  As concern grows over increases in childhood asthma, cancer and other illnesses, researchers are looking at the kinds of chronic, low-level exposures that OSHA would look at. In the school environment, this includes diesel exhaust from idling vehicles, chemicals in cleaning products and pesticides used on school grounds

Because of a child's rapidly developing physiology and natural behavioral patterns, their vulnerability to environmental toxins is greater than that of adults. Yet there is no OSHA – no federal statute or agency – to protect children (or teachers, administrators and staff) from environmental exposures in schools.

It is every child’s right to live and learn in a safe and healthy environment. In the absence of federal oversight, the job of protecting children's health falls to state education departments which are often ill-equipped to handle matters of workplace exposures or pediatric toxicology. Local school boards, facing a myriad of other issues, may be similarly unable to address these exposures.

Thus it falls on parents, teachers, administrators and staff to advocate for the highest levels of environmental quality in their own schools, and to seek ways to mitigate or eliminate toxic exposures. It is for them –  and the children they protect – that we created The ChildSafe School.

- Lana          

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Failure of the Three Minute Rule

Many towns, cities and states have time limits on vehicle idling. Three minutes seems to be a particularly popular choice. I’m sure the decision makers who legislate a three minute limit on vehicle idling have the best intentions. But if they think their regulations are going to protect children at school, they’re badly misinformed.

If you’ve ever stood outside an elementary school at the end of the school day, you know what bedlam can be! Kids going in all directions, toting backpacks, musical instruments and school projects. Excitement is high, there is plenty of jostling, and occasionally some pushing and shoving. There is laughing, yelling and waving and sometimes even crying.

While all this is going on, the adult bus monitors struggle to keep track of their group of kids and make sure the right kids get on the right bus. It’s not an easy job.

Now, in this scenario, who is going to keep track of exactly how long a particular school bus has been idling its engine? Who will know when the three minutes have expired? If you guessed no one, you’re right!

Which is why time limits for vehicle idling are completely ineffective at protecting children from exposure to diesel exhaust. That’s why a real no-idling policy for all motor vehicles on school property is the only real solution.

- Doug          

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Getting started...with pesticides!

Like all parents, we were always concerned about the health and safety of our kids, and particularly, how they were being affected by chemicals in the environment. At home we ate organic food, maintained our lawn without pesticides, avoided things like fabric softeners and chemical air fresheners, and used natural cleaning products. But once our kids got to school, we knew someone else would be making decisions that affected their environment. What did they know? 
Not much, as it turned out.

Our first brush with toxins at school was with the friendly groundskeeper at the elementary school where Patti and a few parents had started a school garden. One day he casually volunteered to spray the perimeter of the garden with pesticides to kill the weeds.  A few minutes later Patti was in the Principal's office discussing the health risks associated with exposure to pesticides, and inquiring as to why pesticides were being used at our kids' school. 

That night around the dining room table we wrote the first public school policy prohibiting pesticides on fields and grounds. A few weeks later, it was passed by our local school board, and the ChildSafe School program became reality.

Fast forward to today: the “Child Safe Playing Fields Act” prohibiting the use of pesticides on school playing fields and green spaces for grades K-12 is the law all over New York State!

- Doug