Statement of Claire Barnett, Executive Director,
Healthy Schools Network
Attachment to Testimony at : http://www.nyc.gov/html/ddc/html/highperf.html
Good morning. Thank you Senator Jeffords, Senator Smith, and other members of the U.S. Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee for holding this historic hearing on the greening of our children's workplaces. There are several questions I hope you will focus on today.
· What do we know about environmental hazards in schools?
· What do we know about how these affect child health and learning?
· What systems are in place to ensure that the opportunities to protect child health and learning and to protect the environment are accessible and implemented?
· What roles should US EPA play an improving school facilities and child health and learning?
The questions are not simple: effective federal responses to the multiple environment and environmental health questions facing all children and their schools requires integrating the expertise and efforts of several disciplines and agencies at the federal level and within the states.
My name is Claire L. Barnett. My husband and I moved from Westport-on-Lake-Champlain, NY to Saratoga Springs, NY where we now reside a few years ago. I am Executive Director of Healthy Schools Network, Inc., a national environmental health research, information, and advocacy organization; a former PTO President from upstate New York; the parent of a health-impaired child once in special education; and today, the representative the parents of 50 million children and the 5 million school personnel-- such as those with me here today, Joellen Lawson (CT), Jenna Orkin, (NY), Veronica Carella (MD), Grayling White (TN), Judy Sazonski (CT), and Robin Starinieri (VA) whose lives have been impacted by the poor conditions of schools and the lack of any comprehensive system to protect children and adults from indoor environmental hazards at school.
The national Coalition for Healthier Schools is comprised of over 75 national, state, and local parent, public health, environment, and education groups and is dedicated to assuring that all children and personnel have schools that are environmentally healthy. Several representatives of organizations in the Coalition are here today whom I wish to recognize: American Public Health Association, Beyond Pesticides, Children's Environmental Health Network, National Education Association, and National Environmental Education and Training Foundation. The Coalition helped secure $1.2 billion in federal funds for school repairs in the fall of 2000 and successfully campaigned last year for the "Healthy and High Performance Schools" provisions now in the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001".
Healthy Schools Network also helped organize countless local healthy schools groups and coalitions in several states. It is through this rapidly growing network of concerned groups that our Healthy Schools/Healthy/Kids Clearinghouse noticed the outbreak of school rashes last year and with national partners asked the federal Centers for Disease Control/National Center for Environmental Health to launch an investigation and to report to Congress (correspondence attached).
Applying our skills in New York State, Healthy Schools Network recently completed a two year grant that funded intensive outreach to 225 low-income schools on greening existing schools, including healthier cleaning and pest control, Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) protocols, and health & safety committees that are required under state regulations. After the World Trade Center attacks, we provided extensive help to the communities and Parent Associations of the seven public Ground Zero Schools. Our commissioned research report on their experience, Schools of Ground Zero: Early Lessons Learned in Child Environmental Health, is now a book co-published with the American Public Health Association that I will provide to the Committee for its records.
The lesson from all of our work and the book: "...N is for No System to Protect Children."
CHILDREN, SCHOOLS, AND ENVIRONMENT
Americans spend 85-90% of their time indoors. For the 55 million children and adults in 115,000 schools today, Tuesday, October 1, 2002, the first day of Child Health Month, they know that schools are more densely occupied and less well maintained than commercial offices. The US General Accounting Office reported in 1995 that over 14 million children were in schools that threatened their health. Environmental factors included indoor air pollution, lighting and plumbing deficiencies, and ventilation problems, problems that don’t away on their own. US EPA states that indoor air pollution is one of the top five hazards to human health. The American Society of Civil Engineers reports that our schools are in worse condition than any other infrastructure including prisons (attached, American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2001 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure/Schools) showing that 65% of schools in the District have bad plumb, and 52% of schools in Alaska and 47% in New Hampshire have air pollution. While enrollments have grown, schools have decayed and renovations and new construction have not kept pace; meanwhile, schools everywhere are enrolling more and more children with special needs: asthma, attention deficit, autism, severe allergies, learning disabilities. Seventeen percent of children under 18 have been diagnosed with one or more developmental disabilities. These disabilities include Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and autism and are the result of complex interactions among genetic, environmental and societal factors that impact children during vulnerable periods of development. These children especially do not thrive in the polluted indoors.
As the federal executive order on child environmental health reauthorized by President Bush reaffirms, children are more vulnerable to environmental hazards that adults. Our challenge is how do we create greener buildings for children-- from existing building, and with renovations and all-new buildings?
What do we know about environmental hazards at school
and the effects on child health and learning?
A is for asthma and air quality.
Children are especially susceptible to air pollutants. Children have increased oxygen needs compared to adults, they breathe more rapidly and, therefore, inhale more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults. They often spend more time engaged in vigorous outdoor activities than adults.
· Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to a chronic illness. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that American children lost 17 million school days in 1997 due to the disease, and that parents lost 5 million work days in order to care for their children with asthma-related illness. Nearly 1 in 13 school-age children has asthma (CEHN).
· Major indoor triggers of asthma attacks include irritants such as paints, cleaning agents, pesticides, perfumes, sealants, plastics, adhesives, insulation materials, animal and insect allergens, environmental tobacco smoke, and molds (CEHN). All of these can be found in schools, including ‘huffable’ spray paints, markers, and fixatives.
Schools that are poorly designed or constructed, or in poor condition, or that have inadequate maintenance, inadequate food storage or garbage and recycling areas, will be subject to pest infestations. Pests like what we like: food, water, and safe place to nest. It is better for the building, healthier for occupants, and cheaper to keep pests out of schools than to continuously apply toxic pesticides. According to Beyond Pesticides, to protect children from unsafe, unhealthy practices, more than thirty states have placed limits on school pesticide uses. Pest-proofing of a facility during renovations or repairs is cost effective step to promoting an environmentally healthy school.
· Information about on the amount of pesticides used in the nation’s 110,000 public schools is not available. The Federal government does not collect such data, and, as of 1999, only two states collected data on pesticide use in a manner that allows for identifying use in school facilities. From 1993 through 1996, about 2,300 pesticide-related exposures involving individuals at schools were reported, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (although these data are not believed to be complete) (CEHN).
Bioaerosols, specifically, molds in schools is new 'hot' issue but hardly a new issue historically. Molds are everywhere, indoors and out and grow by digesting what they sit on. There is no such thing as a mold-free environment. There are thousands of different kinds of molds; different individuals may react differently, and some not at all. Testing for molds is unreliable, and since most are capable of causing illness and eat way at building elements, testing is more beneficial to the vendors than to schools. The message is prevention is cheaper than remediation: reduce humidity, stop leaks, respond promptly to spills and flooding, and take health complaints seriously the first time.
C is for children and chemicals.
Chemical toxicants and biological agents in the classroom, on the playground, in the science lab, or in other school facilities can lead to health risks and adverse learning conditions. They can affect many different body systems and impact health, learning, productivity, and self esteem.
One very effective way to improve indoor environments is to use less-hazardous, or environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) to buy products for cleaning and repair work. EPP applied to custodial product purchasing can result in a zero-cost, environmental change. The basic steps to healthier cleaning include keeping dirt and grime out of the building, then by consulting the product labels and Material Safety Data Sheets, determining which products have the least hazardous properties (HSN).
Other than lead, asbestos and radon, the Federal government has not instituted requirements or guidelines that would protect children from the same chemical exposures that require employee notification and other worker protections.
Schools are places where children and elemental mercury may come together via thermometers and barometers, in laboratory courses or “show-and-tell.” Mercury can also be released through broken fluorescent light tubes or thermostats.
· Mercury is a potent neurotoxicant and children are particularly susceptible to mercury’s dangers. Mercury interferes with brain development and more easily passes into the brains of fetuses and young children than into the brains of adults (CEHN).
· Mercury-containing products or spills must be properly handled. Even small mercury spills require specialists. Improper clean-up of a mercury release, such as vacuuming up the mercury from a broken thermometer, will spread the mercury into the air (CEHN).
Other sources of chemicals in schools will include science laboratories, vocational education classrooms, art rooms, copy shops, computer rooms, and custodial storage areas. There is no system that attempts to assess the types of chemicals used in schools, including pesticides. Federal Executive Order 13101 on Environmentally Preferable Purchasing has not been systematically extended to schools to assist them with setting purchasing specifications that will drive out toxic products that may contribute to employee injury, storage problems, disposal problems, air pollution, and student illness or health risks. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) studied evacuations from educational facilities, often caused by chemical spills or releases, and found-- not surprisingly that the evacuees and victims from schools are younger and more numerous than those from other institutional settings. The most common substances involved were mercury, then tearing agents, hydrochloric acid, chlorine, ethlene glycol, and formaldehyde. There was no estimate of the cost to health, learning, or school administration.
Lead comes with old infrastructure and will be found in paint dust and chips, window sills, the grounds next to an old building, grounds near highways and bridges, and in water. Lead is a potent neurotoxin. Exposure to lead can cause a variety of health effects, including delays in normal physical and mental development in children, deficits in attention span, hearing, and learning disabilities of children, as well as problems with impulsivity and aggression. Long-term effects can include stroke, kidney disease, and cancer. (AECLP, CEHN) Los Angeles Unified SD flags old classrooms for high priority clean-ups that have flaking paint or paint chips on the floors. New York State requires that areas to be disturbed during renovation be tested for lead.
· According to a report on the condition of the nation’s school facilities by the U. S. General Accounting Office, schools built before 1980 were painted with lead paint.
· Children may also be exposed to lead through drinking water that has elevated concentrations from lead plumbing materials. Lead contamination in drinking water occurs from corrosion of lead pipes, lead soldered plumbing and storage tanks and lead-containing plumbing fixtures, and it cannot be directly detected or removed by the water system (AECLP, CEHN).
· Some support was provided to schools through the Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988 to identify and correct lead-in-drinking-water problems at schools, especially water coolers with lead-lined tanks (CEHN).
· Rifle ranges at school are another potential source of lead contamination (HSN).
N is for no system to protect children.
Twenty-six states have adopted federal Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) standards for public employees, and thus these standards may well protect school employees. Although students may indirectly benefit from the OSHA and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) activities that cover school employees, OSHA and NIOSH have no jurisdiction for investigating the health impact of exposure to students. Parents of the Schools of Ground Zero learned this the hard way, as did the parents here with me today. Employees may call in NIOSH to evaluate workplace conditions. None has ever evaluated students who outnumber adults in school by an average of 10 or more to one. Two studies on employees of school in Lower Manhattan found health effects from indoor pollutants six months after the World Trade Center attacks. No similar studies are underway on the 3,000 students who returned to their 'workplace' in early October.
Numerous studies conclude that there is an explicit relationship between the physical characteristics of school buildings and educational outcomes. To this end, research shows us that better quality buildings produce better student results on standardized tests (Rebuild American's Schools). For example:
· Four recent studies found higher test scores for students learning in better buildings and lower scores for students learning in substandard buildings. One of the more recent of these studies showed a difference in student test scores ranging from 5 to 17 percentile points (RAS).
· Another study in DC Public Schools showed that students in school buildings in poor condition scored 11% below students in buildings that were in excellent condition on standardized achievement tests (RAS).
Greener buildings are a return to 'the basics' of fresh air and sunshine in schools: fund and implement the Healthy and High Performance Schools to help address the environmental needs of decayed schools. It is set up to help schools with design, engineering, and materials selection during major renovations, financed by state agencies. The opportunity to merge national environmental and building sciences information and technical assistance with state energy, education, and environment programs, is unique, timely, and necessary. Volunteer local school boards simply are not equipped to do this alone.
The US Department of Energy's studies on schools and findings that schools could save 25% or $1.5 billion in energy with modest improvements. Other organizations have found school saving up to 50% on energy with new equipment and human behavior changes. Daylighting will yield higher test scores and save energy (HSN). We also refer you to the excellent green design guidelines for public buildings and schools by the New York City Department of Design and Construction that also offers in-depth assistance on materials selections.
While there is federal legislation and regulatory authority at US EPA on outdoor air, there are virtually no laws or enforceable regulations on indoor air quality (IAQ). Yet air pollution is air pollution indoors or out. Priority research needs for the field of adult workers was just published (Am J Public Health) that outlined an extensive NIOSH/National Occupational Research Agenda committee process. The process did not consider a child research agenda and it unclear if the longitudinal National Children’s Study will undertake parallel research in this area. In fact no state has a system to collect or report student illness or injury, so improving on research means starting from square one. There was no baseline data on children's illnesses during the recent school rash outbreak.
Worse, for the parents of affected children and for school personnel, no school can prove it has acceptable indoor air by producing a test result. Indeed some research suggests that human sensors (the building occupants) are more sensitive than testing equipment and provide continuous on-site feed-back. We recommend to you the Indoor Air 2002 conference proceedings and bibliography that we will submit separately to Committee staff. Indoor air measures can be expensive and must be done under actual operating conditions, with the school fully loaded. Contaminants present can include asbestos, lead, mold spores, pet danders, volatile organic compounds, fumes from uncontrolled renovation projects and cleaning products, instructional supplies, pest/pesticide and their residues, foods, garbage, or the not-so-subtle scents of middle-schoolers in an overheated building. There are some standards for individual contaminants of indoor air set for adult occupational exposures; California has set comprehensive standards for VOC's.
US EPA/Indoor Environments Division (IED) is to be commended for having a strong, voluntary program for schools, the "IAQ Tools for Schools" program. In addition to setting quotas for the regional offices and giving mini-grant to schools to spur implementation, EPA also developed educational materials, such as "Student Performance and School Air Quality” that indicates even healthy adults placed in a polluted indoor environment can have a 3-7% decline in speed and accuracy in keyboarding. There are no such studies on children, although I am sure every Committee Member would unanimously agree that every school principal wants a 3-7% gain in standardized test scores.
TfS implementation remains elusive, as it does with many voluntary school programs. At the Indoor Air conference in Monterey, US EPA/Region 2 staff presented its work in New Jersey: it has been able to initiate the voluntary program in only one percent of the schools in the state. TfS is sadly underutilized, and with a few exceptions, has not been well integrated into ongoing school facility work or state aid systems.
Implementation of Healthy and High Performance Schools provisions that give states funding and information for school renovations would greatly assist IAQ problems. Since implementation is scant and children are required to be in schools and schools have known air pollution problems, the real question is why is TfS is only a voluntary program. The difficulty in defining what TfS implementation consists of is part of the problem; another is the basic difficulty in extracting timely and accurate information from schools about environmental conditions and child health; and finally, the need for substantial increases in research into indoor air is also required.
Needless to say, as Committee members and staff are aware, schools receiving any federal aid are required under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to provide accessible facilities. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools must provide a free, appropriate public education to all children in the least restrictive setting.
The Outbreak of School Rashes.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launched a federal study of the outbreak of rashes that affected over 1,000 children in 27 states. Findings include the usual childhood diseases, eczema, applied chemicals and renovation dusts, and rashes of unknown origins. Despite premature media reports that attempted to paint this as 'female hysteria', the rashes appeared on both boys and girls, in different schools and in different classrooms, and in different states on the same day. At least one school in the state of Washington refused to allow the state to conduct an environmental investigation on site. In surveying members of the NYS Association of School Nurses two years ago, HSN learned that nurses are not allowed to tell parents about school conditions and that 71% of 206 respondents knew children who were affected (HSN).
This is not a system set up to protect children and to determine what the exposures and results of those exposures are. We encourage Congress to hear from CDC/NCEH and other agencies on how school environmental investigations should be carried out.
The root problem is that there is no system to protect children, and no system to deliver or enforce a consistent message with local schools. We believe that it is beyond the jurisdiction of this Committee acting alone to establish such a system, but we would urge future this Committee and others to explore these issues and possible solutions in depth with the array of federal agencies.
1. Fund and implement the Healthy and High Performance Schools provisions of the Leave No Child Behind Act, expanding the USD Education's ability to:
· participate in the National Children's Study;
· participate in the Interagency Task Force on Risks to Child Health;
· conduct joint research with other federal agencies on how environmental hazards at school affect health and learning;
· provide incentives and information to the states to leverage their own 'high performance schools' programs.
2. Institutionalize the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities and cross-link it to the other federal agencies' school environmental programs;
3. Expand US Environmental Protection Agency's schools programs, establishing it as an agency priority, including:
· research on indoor air at school and impacts on child health and learning;
· evaluating IAQ Tools for Schools and other school programs for their effectiveness at reducing children's toxic exposures and reducing absenteeism, or providing disability access to buildings;
· strengthening the EPA regional office's work with state agencies and advocacy organizations so that IAQ Tools for Schools and other programs are integrated into state agency efforts;
· expand US EPA's grants to the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units, jointly funded with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry;
· require US EPA and other federal agencies, in cooperation with environmental health and education groups, to develop best practice policies for school district maintenance and repair, consistent with 'greening' the existing infrastructure for the protection of child health. This should include methods and examples for applying the federal executive order on Environmentally Preferable Purchasing to school supplies and maintenance products.
5. Pass the federal School Environmental Protection Act (SEPA, HR 111 and HR 3275/S 1716 in the 106th Congress) that will have the effect of making schools 'pest-proof' their buildings and thus reduce their reliance on the routine use of highly toxic chemicals.
6. Fund school repairs and construction, directing a federal grant program at high needs schools and offer tax credits to subsidize the interest on school construction bonds used for repairs, renovations, and new construction.
ORGANIZATIONAL SOURCES AND ABREVIATIONS IN THE TEXT:
AECLP, Alliance to End Childhood Lead Poisoning
CEHN, Children’s Environmental Health Network
HSN, Healthy Schools Network
RAS, Rebuild America’s Schools Coalition