CDC Study Highlights Progress on School Environmental Health

November 14, 2007

by Claris Olson, HSC Environmental Health Specialist

The Center for Disease Control has released a new study, Healthy and Safe School Environment Part II, Physical School Environment [pdf], which details the status of school environmental health throughout the U.S.

The study provides background information and specific citations on the health vulnerabilities of children and the health risks they face at school: those associated with indoor air quality, diesel exhaust from school buses, hazardous materials, pesticides, drinking water and lead.  The bulk of the study is a nationwide survey of the environmental practices that affect children’s health, at the school level and the school district level. 

It’s great to see this type of large-scale study recognize and examine the issues that we know are important to children’s health and readiness to learn.

As the CDC report says, “As society continues to focus on the importance of academic achievement, the school physical environment should be addressed as a critical factor that influences academic outcomes.”

This type of broad data shows how much work remains ahead of us all in our efforts to provide healthy school environments for all students, teachers and school staff. But it also highlights the substantial good work that is being done around the country to make schools safer, healthier places.

The survey found that one third of districts have an indoor air quality management plan; more than one third have a school bus engine-idling reduction program; most districts and schools have plans for how to store, dispose of, and reduce the use of hazardous materials.  One fourth of states require schools to follow an integrated pest management program, reducing the misuse of pesticides.

The study also shows that green building is beginning to catch on, with 13.4 percent of school districts having a policy to include green design when building new schools or renovating existing buildings.  In addition, more than half of schools have policies to purchase low-emitting products for use in and around the school and school grounds, including in art classes, industrial art classes and science laboratories. (Low-emitting products give off fewer of the harmful chemicals that can hurt indoor air quality and have long-term effects on children’s health.)

Although we still have a long road ahead to making America’s schools green and the buildings safe for all children and teachers, it looks as though we are heading in the right direction on that road.