On Monday, USA Today exposed the alarmingly unhealthy air quality near many of our country's schools. Of the 95 locations in 30 states tested by scientists at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, at least seven, the article concluded, exhibited "pollution at levels that could make people sick or significantly increase their risk of cancer if they were exposed to the chemicals for long periods." It also rightly reminded us, "Even small amounts of toxic chemicals can do irreparable harm to children, who breathe more air per pound than adults do, and whose bodies process chemicals differently."
If you think your child is safe because his or her classroom is not located near a steel plant like the one in Midland, Pennsylvania, that showed some of the most threatening results, consider this: Some of the nation's affluent suburbs tested positive for benzene, a toxic chemical often found in automobile exhaust. In other words, no area is safe from air pollution.
All of this information is enough to make any protective parent want to go out and buy oxygen masks. After all, there's not much we can do to protect our children from the air at school or anywhere else for that matter, right? Wrong.
We should all be asking our educators an important question: Where are the concerns for indoor air pollution, which schools can actually control?
As I mention in my book Green Goes with Everything, due to items we innocently introduce into our homes, and, incidentally our schools (think paint, cleaning products, desks, and carpets), the air inside is two to five times worse than outside, according to the EPA. And we spend nearly 90 percent of our time indoors! So, while our kids are sitting at their desks attempting to get an education, they are breathing in toxins released not by a steel factory but by things that might be sprayed on their desks or hung in front of the windows.
Last week I vowed to offer President-elect and Mrs. Obama insight into how to truly "green" the White House for optimum health. This week I was excited to be invited to report on the greening of Arianna Huffington's house (more on that in the days to come, but you should know that Arianna really cares about the health issues in her home and has already taken many steps to protect her family). So, this topic is top of mind for me, and as I share my recommendations (and yours) for the Obamas and Arianna with the world, I can promise that air quality is going to be one of the most important subjects I address.
In the meantime, we should demand that our schools make the necessary--and surprisingly easy--changes to ensure that all children, and let's not forget the teachers, breathe easier.