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.