PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Do They Pose a Health Risk to Children?
The two million children in California's portable classrooms might be absorbing something "less beneficial" than multiplication tables -- formaldehyde, benzene, toluene, arsenic and toxic molds -- according to Ann Melamed, project manager for Oakland's Center for Environmental Health and Caroline Grannan, PTA board member at a San Francisco school. Writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, the authors note that those classrooms "harbor chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects, brain and nerve damages, nausea, nosebleeds, asthma and other illnesses," pointing to a report by the Environmental Working Group. The report states, "Tighter construction, fewer windows and inadequate ventilation in portables can lead to a greater buildup of toxic chemicals (than in conventional buildings)." The authors describe one portable first-grade classroom that sits "a few yards from busy Lake Merced Boulevard, which sends exhaust fumes and a constant din of traffic noise through flimsy walls into the classroom. Turning on the ventilation system just increases the noise." Conventional classrooms located in "deteriorating old buildings where hazards like lead paint and asbestos are common" are also at fault, the writers insist. Cuts in maintenance staff further compound the problem, leading to "hasty housekeeping, water intrusion, malfunctioning ventilation systems and deferred maintenance." The authors maintain that AB 1207, awaiting Gov. Gray Davis' signature, would begin to address the problem by requiring the state to study problems with air quality and then investigate solutions, as well as train teachers in environmental health standards. "The bill is only a start. But we hope it signals a new commitment to educating our kids in a safe and healthy setting," they conclude (10/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.