New York has just become the first state to require that all schools use safer, non-toxic cleaning products. Passage of New York’s pioneering legislation -- similar to laws in Washington State that require all school and public buildings to “go green” -- was driven by mounting concerns that many school buildings and grounds are actually quite unhealthy environments. In the recent past, more than 50% of all public schools in the U.S. were cited for poor indoor air quality, and things are getting worse, according to government reports.
Given that our children spend much of their time in school, the air they breathe can be a significant source of exposure to toxic pollutants, which are especially hazardous for their more vulnerable, developing bodies. Studies also show that indoor air pollution in schools actually can result in decreased performance and a significant number of school days lost due to illness.
Going outside to play may not offer any relief either. A July 2005 surveillance report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, notes that acute pesticide-related illnesses are relatively common in students and school employees. Moreover, the authors find that the rate of illness in children that is associated with pesticide use at schools is increasing significantly. “To prevent pesticide-related illnesses at schools”, the authors urge “implementation of integrated pest management programs in schools, practices to reduce pesticide drift, and adoption of pesticide spray buffer zones around schools.”
To address these and many other school-based environmental health issues, a nationwide effort to build and maintain healthier, greener schools has been gaining momentum. In Massachusetts, for example, there is a Green Schools Initiative, a project of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, providing a range of “best practice” tools for greening schools.
In California’s huge public school systems, The Collaborative for High Performance Schools is helping to design healthier and more energy efficient facilities. In addition, across the country, a small, but growing number of public and private schools have successfully implemented voluntary green building standards, known as LEEDS standards (LEEDS stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed by the U.S. Building Council to raise awareness of the benefits of green buildings and to change the marketplace.
Just in time for the 2005 school year, the editors of The Green Guide, have singled out “America’s Top 10 Green Schools” -- real leaders who are creating everything from day lit classrooms and pesticide-free grounds, to student lockers made of recycled milk cartons, and compost programs for school lunch remains.
By making changes in their design, energy and water use, chemical use indoors and out, their lunch menu, and more, these schools are making greener, healthier and better learning environments for their kids.
Find out which schools make The Green Guide's Top 10 Green Schools list; how to rate your own local schools; plus many other online resources for healthier schools at: www.thegreenguide.com.
An award-winning broadcast journalist and new media executive whose credits include a wide range of environmental and "green consumer" websites and programs, Joyce H. Newman is a Trustee of the Green Guide Institute, a nonprofit, independent publisher of consumer health and safety advice, product reviews, and shopping tips. She currently heads Newman Productions, specializing in strategic communications for a variety of national nonprofit organizations.
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