National Healthy Schools Day
What you can do to make sure no child’s health is left behind
by Janelle Sorensen
When my husband and I first toured schools to find the one we wanted to enroll our daughter in, I’m sure I was silently voted one of the strangest parents ever. Why do I feel I was secretly endowed with this title? Because every room and hallway we were taken through, I sniffed. A lot. And, according to my husband, I wasn’t terribly discreet.
I didn’t have a cold or postnasal drip. And, I’m not part bloodhound. I was simply concerned about the indoor air quality. My daughter was (and still is) prone to respiratory illnesses and I wanted to be sure the school she would be attending would support and protect her growing lungs (in addition to her brain). For many air quality issues, your nose knows, so I was using the easiest tool I had to gauge how healthy the environment was.
While air quality is a significant issue in schools (the EPA estimates that at least half of our nation’s 120,000 schools have problems), parents are also increasingly concerned about other school health issues like nutrition and the use of toxic pesticides. Many schools are making the switch to healthier and more sustainable practices like green cleaning, least toxic pest management, and even school gardening. What they’re finding is that greening their school improves the health and performance of students and personnel, saves money (from using less energy, buying fewer products, and having fewer worker injuries among other things), and also helps protect the planet. It’s truly win, win, win.
To highlight the issue, the Healthy Schools Network coordinates National Healthy Schools Day. This year, over three dozen events will be held across the country (and more in Canada) on April 27th to promote and celebrate healthy school environments.
What can you do? Healthy Schools Network recommends simple activities such as:
· Adopting Guiding Principles of School Environmental Quality as a policy for your School;
· Distributing information related to Green Cleaning or Indoor Air Quality (IAQ);
· Writing a letter or visiting your Principal or Facility Director to ask about cleaning products or pest control products;
· Walking around your school: looking for water stains, cracks in outside walls, broken windows or steps, and overflowing dumpsters that are health & safety problems that need attention. Use this checklist.
· Writing a Letter to the Editor of your local paper on the importance of a healthy school to all children and personnel.
You can also help support the efforts of states trying to pass policies requiring schools to use safer cleaners. (Or, initiate your own effort!) There are good bills pending in Connecticut, Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon. According to Claire Barnett, Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network, the key pieces to promote on green cleaning in schools are:
· Not being fooled by ‘green washing’ claims—commercial products must be third-party certified as green (to verify claims);
· Understanding that green products are cost-neutral and they work; and,
· Learning that “Clean doesn’t have an odor.”
She encourages parents and personnel to tune into one of the archived webinars on green cleaning (like the first module for general audiences) at www.cleaningforhealthyschools.org.
The fact of the matter is that whether you’re concerned about the quality of food, cleaning chemicals, recycling, or energy use – schools need our help and support. Instead of complaining about what’s wrong, it’s time to help do what’s right – for our children, our schools, and our planet.
What are you going to do? There are so many ideas and resources. Find your passion and get active on April 27th – National Healthy Schools Day.
· Creating Healthy Environments for Children (DVD): A short video with easy tips for schools and a variety of handouts to download and print.
· Getting Your Child’s School to Clean Green: A blog I wrote last year with advice based on my experience working with schools.
· Healthy Community Toolkit: Healthy Child Healthy World’s tips and tools for being a successful community advocate and some of our favorite organizations working on improving child care and school environments and beyond.
· The Everything Green Classroom Book: The ultimate guide to teaching and living green and healthy.
Janelle Sorensen is the Senior Writer and Health Consultant for Healthy Child Healthy World (www.healthychild.org). You can also find her on Twitter as @greenandhealthy.
Posts Tagged ‘air pollution’
National Healthy Schools Day
Traditional paints contain VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), which is the “smell” in paints and are toxic to humans and the environment. VOC’s contribute to air pollution and global warming; and can contaminate ground water and soil. It becomes a problem in homes where VOC’s can be present at as much as 1000 times greater than out door air (typically after painting or paint stripping)!
The EPA says this about the health effects of VOC exposure:
Eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.
The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly from those that are highly toxic, to those with no known health effect. As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed. Eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment are among the immediate symptoms that some people have experienced soon after exposure to some organics. At present, not much is known about what health effects occur from the levels of organics usually found in homes. Many organic compounds are known to cause cancer in animals; some are suspected of causing, or are known to cause, cancer in humans. For more information on health effects, see EPA’s Substance Registry System on VOCs.
We recently painted several rooms in our house using a low-VOC paint. And zero VOC paint is becoming more popular and accessible. We actually used Benjamin Moore’s Harmony paint, which is zero-VOC but because we did color-matching, the tint added a small amount of VOCs. So watch for this if you truly want a zero VOC paint. The great thing was the odor was very minimal and we easily slept in our room the night it was painted! It was actually odd not having days of over-powering paint smell. We still ventilated the areas we painted.
These paints are just as good and durable as traditional paints. There are only 2 cons: there can be limited paint options because the colors are premixed which is how they are able to produce a zero VOC paint. Low-VOC paints can do color-matching. The other con is it is a little more expensive. A gallon is typically $35-$50.
Zero VOC paints include:
Yolo Colorhouse (premixed colors)
Harmony by Benjamin Moore
Natura by Benjamin Moore (available on the west coast, nation-wide in Spring 2009)
Freshaire Choice, available exclusively at Home Depot
Olympic has a zero-VOC line
Low-VOC paints include:
Aura by Benjamin Moore
GreenSeal is an organization that certifies zero- and low-VOC paints. You can view their list here:
Earth Easy has an even wider list of zero-, low- and eco-friendly natural paints.
The Today Show did a segment on green painting this morning. Check it out here.
Besides in paint, VOC’s are found in many common household products including paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.