The American Society of Civil Engineers says schools are in worse shape than prisons – and that schools are making our children sick. The New York State Department of Health found that pediatric asthma hospitalizations often triple in the days after summer vacations when kids return to school.

Many of our nation’s schools are not well-maintained or designed with children’s health vulnerabilities in mind, so they contain high levels of dust and mold. Schools also use pesticides and other toxic cleaning materials that aggravate and provoke upper respiratory conditions such as pediatric asthma.

Children’s bodies are still developing and they breathe more air per pound than adults, making them particularly vulnerable to poor air quality and the toxins they encounter during their school day. Research shows a direct link between a school’s poor indoor environment and high rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments.

So what can we do to reduce hazards and improve conditions in our schools?

The Healthy Schools Network has been working for over fifteen years to reduce hazards in our nation’s schools. Ten years ago, they began annually celebrating a National Healthy Schools Day to bring awareness about the importance of healthy school environments.
First Focus is a proud sponsor of National Healthy Schools Day.

This year, it was held yesterday, Tuesday, April 24th, and it was endorsed by U.S. Environmental Protection (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Director of the National Center for Environmental Health Dr. Chris Portier. Activities were held in over 28 states to educate school officials and their communities about what can be done to reduce environmental hazards in their schools.

Although National Healthy Schools Day may have passed, there are still plenty of things you can do to help:

1. Learn more about the negative health effects for children of indoor environmental hazards, as well as what policies and regulations would be helpful to reduce these hazards.

2. Ask your school what types of chemicals they use to fight pests, if they promote good indoor air quality, or if they notify parents when renovations are occurring at school or pesticides are applied.

3. If you don’t like the answers to these questions, start a local or state group to work with school officials to better the environmental conditions in your school. Provide them with the EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools Action Kit to guide them on how to improve conditions in their school.

4. Write a letter or meet with your elected officials asking them to support funding for the FY 13 Budget for EPA’s Green and Healthy Schools Initiative.

5. You can also write an op-ed to your local paper.

Nearly 50 million children attend public schools every day. Together, we can take action to reduce the environmental hazards in schools that are making our children sick.