Opening Statement of Senator Clinton
EPW Hearing on Green Schools: Environmental Standards for Schools.
October 2, 2002
I want to thank Senator Jeffords for calling this important hearing.
And I would like to take this opportunity to welcome today’s witnesses – including Claire Barnett from the Healthy Schools Network in Albany, New York, and Lois Gibbs, who got her roots – and perhaps established the roots of the entire Superfund program – when she was living in Love Canal, near Niagara Falls in upstate New York.
I am sure we all agree on the importance of keeping the school environment safe for our nation’s children.
Children are in school about six hours a day, five days a week, one hundred and eighty days a year.
Yet increasingly it appears that our nation’s schools may actually be making our children sick, instead of teaching them how to read and write.
Twelve million children under the age of eighteen now suffer from a developmental, learning or behavioral disability. Since 1977, enrollment in special education programs for children with learning disabilities has doubled.
State and federal education departments spend about $36 billion a year on special education programs for individuals with developmental disabilities.
In New York alone, there are two hundred and six thousand learning disabled children – this is fifty percent of the special education population in New York.
Now, I am certainly not suggesting that it is the environment in our schools that is solely to blame.
But research suggests that genetic factors explain only ten to twenty percent of developmental diseases.
In fact, a National Academy of Sciences study suggests that at least twenty-eight percent of developmental disabilities are due to environmental causes. And remember – a large part of that environment for children is the school environment.
Pediatricians and researchers do not know the causes for most developmental, learning and behavioral disabilities. But considerable research has shown that pollutants such as lead, mercury, pesticides, and dioxin contribute to these problems.
Proving the exact role of environmental factors in these problems will take time and research, but it would be easier to gather the necessary data on disease incidence and potential environmental causes if we had a Nationwide Health Tracking System such as the one that Senator Harry Reid and I have called for in legislation introduced earlier this year.
We cannot sit back and allow our children to be hurt by the schools that are supposed to help them to become the leaders of tomorrow.
While we have taken some important steps towards making our schools healthier and safer, there is still much work to be done.
That is why I fought to get important provisions included in the No Child Left Behind Act – including a study by the Department of Education on the link between unhealthy school environments and student achievement. The results of this study will clarify the impact that environmental factors have on the cognitive and emotional development of students.
I have made multiple requests to obtain a status report on this study, and I have received assurances that the study is on schedule and that results will be available in July of 2003. I intend to make certain that the Secretary provides these desperately needed results to us as soon as possible, so that we may take appropriate action.
I also sponsored an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act that would provide schools with resources and technical assistance for renovation. This program, Healthy and High Performance Schools, will help schools get rid of mold, lead, and other contaminants that contribute to unhealthy environments for students. This provision was based on the Healthy and High Performance Schools Act that I introduced last year.
Unfortunately, this provision of the law remains unfunded, and I am extremely concerned that states will not be able to renovate their schools – schools which average over 40 years in age and over half of which that have at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition. Neither will they be able to make improvements that could save 25-30 percent of the approximately $6 billion that schools spend annually on energy costs. [Show brochure that you released last year.]
We also need to make certain that the six thousand new schools that are needed over the next ten years are built on solid environmental ground – literally.
In a recent report by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice – which I know we will hear more about later this morning -- over 1,100 public schools in five states (New York, California, Michigan, Massachusetts and New Jersey) were found to be located within a half-mile of a Superfund site or a site that appeared on a state hazardous waste site list – over 600,000 children attend classes in those schools.
In New York alone, the report identifies 235 schools in 39 counties that are within a half-mile of a contaminated site.
In May, I sent a letter to Administrator Whitman, urging the EPA to establish environmental guidelines for the siting of public schools.
I believe that establishing uniform guidelines would provide local communities with the tools they need to locate schools in places that will allow our children to learn, grow, and develop in a safe and healthy environment – and I look forward to hearing more on this from EPA today.
Unfortunately, the recent tragedy of September 11th , 2001, has presented yet another set of challenges when it comes to the health and safety of our nation’s schools.
We can and should learn from the experiences of the children of the schools of Ground Zero: P.S. 89, P.S. 234, I.S. 89, P.S. 150, Stuyvesant High School, the High School for Economics and Finance and the High School for Leadership and Public Service.
I want to point out a book “Schools of Ground Zero: Early Lessons Learned in Children’s Environmental Health” that was recently published by the American Public Health Association and Healthy Schools Network – I look forward to hearing more about these lessons learned later today.
As I have said, there is so much work left to be done. So I am glad that we are here today to learn from some excellent witnesses. I hope today’s witnesses will help us consider possible solutions to some very formidable challenges regarding the health and safety of our nation’s schools – challenges that are affecting the lives of so many children across this country.