Do you know the children's book, A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman? If you don't, I'll catch you up on this sweet picture book poem that begins:
A hill is a house for an ant, an ant.
A hive is a house for a bee.
A hole is a house for a mole or a mouse.
And a house is a house for me!
This poem plays over and over again in my mind as the lazy days of summer fade, and the school buses make their trial runs down my road in anticipation of the new school year. Even though I haven't taught for a few years, it seems like a sensor goes off around this time of the year that alerts me to everything school-related.
Something else has the alarms ringing. It's a warning about the "house" - The Schoolhouse.
There are 60 million students and faculty on school grounds in the US on any given school day. Since most children spend six hours, five days a week at school, and for many who attend after school programs, this can be upwards of 10 hours a day, they are exposed to a multitude of pollutants. Given that children are uniquely susceptible to the dangers posed by toxic chemicals because they breathe more deeply than adults, and because their bodies are still developing, being subjected to hours of polluted air can have a devastating cumulative effect.
While hall monitors are monitoring the halls for bathroom passes, the EPA has been monitoring the school halls for air quality. The EPA has a special office charged with protecting children's health. This office has studied and created pollution models that help identify air pollutants, and the schools where toxic chemicals saturate the air. And, as the EPA's Tracy Enger, who facilitates indoor air quality tools for schools, says in this post:
"A building's air is only as clean as the air around it. There is no indoor air filter in existence that can eliminate toxins coming in from the outside. Air pollution from cars and industry, pollution from idling buses-all these have an impact on children's health."
5 School Stories of Pollution (adapted from USAToday)
- In Addyston, Ohio, a town along the Ohio River, air-monitoring equipment has replaced the chatter of children at the Meredith Hitchens Elementary School. Officials pulled all students from Hitchens a few years ago, after air samples outside the building showed high levels of chemicals coming from the plastics plant across the street. The levels were so dangerous that the Ohio EPA concluded the risk of getting cancer there was 50 times higher than what the state considers acceptable.
- At Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in East Chicago, Ind., the indicated levels of manganese was more than a dozen times higher than what the government considers safe. This metal can cause mental and emotional problems after long exposures. There are three factories within blocks of the school. The school is located in one of the most impoverished areas of the state.
- The Middle School in Follansbee, W.Va., sits close to a cluster of plants that churn out tens of thousands of pounds of toxic gases and metals eac year.
- In Huntington, W.Va., data showed the air outside Highlawn Elementary School had high levels of nickel, which can harm lungs and cause cancer.
- At San Jacinto Elementary School in Deer Park, Texas, data indicated carcinogens at levels even higher than the readings at the school in Hitchens, Ohio. A recent University of Texas study showed an "association" between an increased risk of childhood cancer and proximity to the Houston Ship Channel, about 2 miles from the school.
Air pollution is toxic to our kids, and it is one of the root causes of global warming. With our climate changing so rapidly, we can not have pollution blanketing the safe places where our children learn and play. We need the EPA's Clean Air Act to protect children now, and in the future. To keep the EPA strong, we must vote for leadership that can bring this country into a new era of energy efficiency. Please join the Moms Clean Air Force in keeping our school children safe.
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