Healthy Schools - EPA Guidelines

Healthy Schools

More than 53 million children and 6 million adults in the United States spend their days in our elementary and secondary schools. Reducing environmental risks inside these buildings is critical to maintaining the public health. Almost all of the United State's children will spend a large portion of their childhood in school. To help our children stay healthy, we must reduce their exposure to environmental hazards in school environments. When students and their teachers are healthy and comfortable, children learn and produce more in the classroom, which in turn improves performance and achievement later in life. This brochure can help school employees and parents recognize potential environmental health issues at schools, both indoors and outdoors.It includes basic information about a broad range of topics, and links to web sites that offer more information and guidance on how to have a healthier school environment and comply with relevant laws. EPA’s Healthy School Environments web site provides access to programs that help prevent and resolve environmental issues in schools.

Twelve Ways to Make Your School Healthier

  1. Clear the air inside.
    EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program provides information to help schools prevent and solve indoor air quality problems.
  2. Clear the air outside.
    Schools can reduce children’s exposure to diesel exhaust by eliminating unnecessary school bus idling, installing eff ective emission control systems on newer buses and replacing the oldest buses with new ones.
  3. Rid school buildings of radon.
    Schools should test the level of radon gas in their buildings with a radon test kit. If the test results are above healthy levels, steps should be taken to reduce radon.
  4. Use toxics with caution.
    Schools should look for alternatives to toxic pesticides and cleaning chemicals. Products should only be used as directed, and stored in high locked cabinets and in original containers. Remove the sources of lead, mercury, asbestos and PCBs from the school environment, where possible.
  5. Buy chemicals carefully.
    Possible health, safety and environmental implications should be considered before chemicals are purchased for use in schools. Proper chemical use and management (storage, labeling, disposal) is critical for reducing chemical exposures and costly accidents.
  6. Test the water.
    School districts should know the quality of the drinking water in their schools buildings, and should have it tested regularly.
  7. Get the lead out.
    School buildings built before 1978, should be tested for lead paint. Renovations or repairs should be done in a way that does not create lead dust. Children should be kept away from lead hazards.
  8. Keep mercury from rising.
    School environments should be mercury-free. Schools should use digital thermometers and safer alternatives to mercury in science curriculum, nurses’ offi ces, and within facilities operations/maintenance.
  9. Cover up.
    Schools should practice “sunsafe behavior” and encourage children to cover up, use SPF 15 or higher sun screen, and stay out of midday sun to avoid damaging UV rays.
  10. Have a “safe school” plan.
    School districts should identify hazards, evaluate safety planning and prepare for emergencies.
  11. Get a team.
    You can’t do it alone. Ideally, you will have the superintendent, facility manager, business manager, school nurse, principal, teachers and parents working with you.
  12. Educate yourself.
    You need to know what environmental health issues are important so you can evaluate your school and choose your priorities.
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