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Millions of Children Will Return to Unsafe Schools


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BE SAFE MN Releases Back To School Environmental Checklist To Help Parents and Schools Evaluate Conditions, Prevent Hazards and Create Healthy Schools.

St. Paul/MN- A broad coalition of educational, environmental, health and civic organizations released a Back to School Environmental Checklist today at Dodge Nature Preschool in West St. Paul and across the country. The Checklist is designed to help parents, students and teachers evaluate environmental problems in their school, such as polluted indoor air and toxic pesticide use. This new tool also provides resources to develop a precautionary action plan to prevent environmental hazards, protect children's health, and improve school safety. The coalition called upon the Bush Administration and Congress to reform and to fund school facilities so that every child and every school employee-20% of the American population-has a healthy, hazard-free, and energy-efficient workplace.

Each school day, some 53 million students and five million staff attend our nation's schools. Half of this population may be exposed to unhealthy conditions: polluted indoor air, exposures to lead, asbestos, chemical fumes, pesticides, molds and other toxins, overcrowding and lack of sanitation. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) Many parents, teachers and health experts are worried about the growing trend of childhood diseases, such as asthma, learning disabilities, and cancer. Studies show chemical exposures and decayed school environments can contribute to illness and disease, as well as absenteeism.

"Everyday we are unwittingly exposed to more and more harmful substances that adversely impact our health. We all want to believe our children are safe when we send them off to school, and the Back to School Environmental Checklist gives parents an easy-to-use tool to assure that happens." Said Kathy Lawson of the Learning Disabilities Association of America. "Our kids deserve the safest possible environment in which to learn and grow. Implementing this Environmental Checklist is a great way to start the school year by drawing the attention of school administrators and the community to the need for vigilance in protecting our children."

Here in Minnesota, the School Pesticide Right-to-Know Act of 2000 requires schools to notify parents and employees about pesticide applications upon request. Both the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Agriculture recommend schools use Integrated Pest Management to reduce toxic threats to children. Yet, many schools still use toxic chemicals as a first recourse for pest management and don't warn parents or employees in advance. Likewise, in May of 2002 the Minnesota State Legislature passed legislation to reduce unnecessary school bus idling in an effort to protect children from dangerous diesel fumes, yet many schools still allow this harmful practice.

"Minnesota is moving in the right direction to protect children from health threats common in school environments, but schools need help implementing legislation and recommendations at the local level." Stated Janelle Sorensen, BE SAFE MN Coordinator. "The Back to School Environmental Checklist highlights local initiatives and gives parents and schools the tools to create a healthy school environment."

National BE SAFE partners called on the Bush Administration and Members of Congress to allocate federal funds for states to conduct school health and safety repairs and renovations, and to fund the Healthy High Performance School Act in "No Child Left Behind" at a minimum of $25 million a year. This annual Department of Education appropriation would activate a grant program to help states show schools how to design and engineer healthier and more energy efficient facilities. One year ago, the US Senate defeated an education budget amendment to renew a $1 billion appropriation to the states for school repairs. According to the National Center on Education Statistics and the National Education Association, the nation's 95,000 public schools need over $250 billion for construction and urgent repairs; the US Department of Energy has estimated schools could save $1.5 billion with more up-to-date heating, ventilating, and lighting systems.

The Checklist shows how communities and schools can heed early warning signs and prevent toxic exposures by taking a precautionary approach. Based on the "first do no harm" approach of medicine, the precautionary approach shifts the questions we ask about environmental hazards from "what level of harm is acceptable" to "how can we prevent harm?" The Checklist will help communities to create a healthy school environment through a "better safe than sorry" precautionary approach to prevent exposures and to adopt healthier practices. It is more than saying no to hazards, it is also saying yes to better, proactive protective practices.

National, state and local groups are holding media events, meetings and school tours to release the 2004 Checklist. (View calendar of events at The Checklist was developed jointly by BE SAFE Network and Coalition for Healthier Schools (CHS), including Preventing Harm MN, Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), Healthy Schools Network, National PTA, Children's Health Environmental Coalition, Learning Disability Association, Beyond Pesticides and others.

The BE SAFE Network is gathering thousands of endorsements for the BE SAFE Precautionary Platform to present to the newly elected President in 2005 ( The Coalition for Healthier Schools, which provides a forum for school environmental health, is gathering hundreds of organizational endorsements for its national Position Statement 2004 outlining national, state and local policies needed to promote healthier schools and to protect children and staff from harm (

Take action--download your local safe-schools media pack here (Word Doc)