Coalition for Healthier Schools, 2016.

Healthy schools help children grow and learn. But providing children with healthy places to learn is too often an afterthought—or not thought of at all. School facilities have been neglected for decades. Towards Healthy Schools: Reducing Risks to Children is the fourth in a series of triennial state of the states’ reports

from Healthy Schools Network and its partners in the Coalition for Healthier Schools, dating from 2006. Previous reports assessed state-by-state environmental health hazards at schools, offered compelling personal narratives from parents and teachers, and provided data needed to assess the subsequent impact on children’s health. The last report, Towards Healthy Schools 2015, went deeper into specific issues such as asthma, and fracking and well water, while also using federal poverty statistics—e.g., the number of children in a school eligible for free or reduced-price meals—as a proxy for poverty and to highlight essential inequities and injustices. It also highlighted how greener, cleaner, healthier schools promote attendance and achievement. Yet, no state publishes information regarding children at risk due to school and/or child care center environmental hazards. To drive home the national scope of the hidden environmental health crisis faced by children, this new report features published media reports on environmental conditions from every state in the nation. From Alabama, where Bay Minette parents threatened to keep their children home to avoid exposing them to asbestos, to Wyoming, where grass fires endangered students at South High, it is a disturbing summary, highlighting the fact that across the country teachers, parents, and guardians, and the children themselves, face numerous and serious unexamined and unaddressed risks to health and learning which are rarely acknowledged by public agencies.

By: Dr. G. Victor Hellman, Jr.

Green buildings, green cleaning, school gardens, and green playgrounds are just a few of the prevalent concepts on the mind of education facility planners and many educational administrators. Just what is this green movement all about? How does a school or a district go green? Is there a checklist that lets an administrator know they have reached the goal of a green school? The simple answer to these questions is that a school or district can do as little or as much as they desire. What is important is that they do something. We all must work together to take steps for a greener school. The terms “green” and “sustainability” are often used interchangeably, and these words imply the need for focusing on conserving resources and creating healthy environments for everyone. Green and sustainable facilities typically have lower life-cycle costs and can demonstrate that they are more energy efficient than their non-green counterparts. Lets examine some of the different ways a school or division can go green.

One way a school or division can go green is to construct facilities that are high performing and sustainable or renovate older facilities to bring them up to standard. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is not the only organization that recognizes sustainable facilities; however, it is probably the most widely known. The USGBC has established LEED awards for facilities that are considered high performing and sustainable. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. While a commitment to a high performance building starts with the owner, it is the design team that includes the components into the new construction or renovation plan to qualify the facility for LEED. There are differing levels of LEED certification depending upon the number of features incorporated into the site and facility. The USGBC recognizes four different levels of LEED: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. The ratings are based on a point system, and facility owners should decide which level of certification they desire before the design or retrofit process begins. While LEED certification may result in higher design and construction costs, incorporating LEED features into a facility will ultimately lower the operational costs over the life of the building. For more information on LEED certification or the USGBC, please visit http://www.usgbc.org/leed .

Another tool to assist in going green is green cleaning. Green cleaning differs from traditional cleaning methods with regard to the solutions and equipment that are used to carry out the cleaning process. The green cleaning process does not utilize toxic chemical-based solutions that have often been used. These cleaning methods have been replaced with solutions such as ionized water. Mops and towels have been replaced with their micro-fiber counterparts. Higher costs and lower efficacy were once cited as reasons not to engage in the green cleaning process. As the solutions and equipment for green cleaning have advanced, these arguments are no longer valid. With the increased efficacy and the minimum or cost-neutral impact of green cleaning, this form of cleaning is something that every school and district should consider. In addition to these considerations, green cleaning is an environmentally friendly alternative to the caustic chemicals used in traditional methods of cleaning. By eliminating the chemical-based cleaners that have been used in the past, there has been a noted decrease in absenteeism from both students and staff. (Issa, Rankin, et.al., 2011)  Just as the decision to construct a high performing building rests with the owner, support from the top down to the custodial staff is essential to develop an effective, sustained green cleaning program. For more information on how to initiate a green cleaning program in your school or division, please visit: http://www.efc.gwu.edu//green-cleaning-series/ .

The final consideration for greening a school (although many more exist) that I will put forward is greening the school playground and/or installing an outdoor school garden. Greening the school playground will often incorporate a school garden, so we will discuss them together. One technique to create a green playground is to eliminate the concrete and asphalt and replace the surfaces with artificial turf or a similar product. Another greening method is called a natural playground. Natural playgrounds integrate features such as trees, bushes, and raised flowerbeds with slides, swings, and benches. Natural playgrounds have resulted in a decrease in violent behavior and an increase in attention (Loomis, 2008).  A school garden can be beneficial for the instructional curriculum as well as having positive effects in improving other site features such as drainage. Finally, schools that have gardens often use the food they grow in their food service program and can even utilize the crops as a source of revenue.

The United States Department of Education also recognizes the advantages of a school or division going green. On July 20, 2016, the Center for Green Schools and the USGBC recognized 47 schools and 15 districts for their outstanding efforts to go green. In addition to the K-12 honorees, 11 colleges and universities were honored with the Postsecondary Sustainability Award. I had the honor of attending the awards ceremony, and would submit to you that those receiving the awards did not go green for the award; instead they took their actions knowing that they were making a positive impact on our environment and reaping the many benefits of going green for their school community.

References:

Issa, M. H., Rankin, J. H., Attalla, M., & Christian, A. J. (2011). Absenteeism, performance and occupant satisfaction with the indoor environment of green toronto schools. Indoor and Built Environment20(5), 511-523.

Loomis, A. (2008). Natural Playgrounds. Sustainable Portland: Implementation Series, 49.

Dr. G. Victor Hellman, Jr., serves as the Research Project Director for the Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC). Victor has more than 31 years of work experience in public schools in Virginia. Prior to joining the EFC, he served as Deputy Superintendent of Operations and Support for a mid-urban school district. In that role, he was responsible for finance, facilities, transportation, student services, and food services.

 

By Dr. Linda Lemasters

On December 2, 2015, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a summary report on safe and unsafe blood lead levels in the children of Flint, Michigan.  Children with elevated lead levels more than doubled after a change in water sources.  At some point in Flint’s very public discussion, school leaders, teachers, and parents began to ask questions about the safety of the water supply in the schools their children attend.  Alas, the data were not as one would hope; the Flint situation should be a wake-up call for facility managers of schools, daycares, and other public buildings children frequent across the U.S.

There are schools across the nation that must test for lead levels and other toxins, poisons, and bacteria in the water.  Those are schools not on public access water supplies.  Schools, however, on municipal and other public water lines are not required to test their water.  This inconsistency leaves many children at risk, especially in older buildings or in situations in which water is used only sporadically and sits for long periods of time in the older pipes.

Just what are the risks of lead tainted water supplies?  Dr. Jay Schneider, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University, very clearly laid out the risks of lead consumption by children in an article in Popular Science by Alexandra Ossola:

One thing is constant, however:  lead is toxic, and if it makes its way into the still-developing brains of young children, many of the effects can be permanent.  Lead can change how signals are passed within the brain, how memories are stored, even how cells get their energy, resulting in life-long learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and lower IQs.  (Schneider, in Ossola, 2016)

As we learn more about lead and its effects on the brain, even down to these molecular levels, if anything it’s even more dangerous than we thought.  It can really change the programming of the brain, which will have considerable effects on subsequent behavioral and brain function.  (Schneider, in Ossola, 2016)

While I do not want to sound an alarm—I believe that has been accomplished by others—I do want to bring two questions to the reader’s attention:

  1. How do we go about getting water tested in all schools across the U.S., no matter what the water source is?
  2. What research plans do we have to find solutions for the children who already have experienced lead poisoning?

The first question seems simple enough.  The testing of water sources is relatively inexpensive, with little training required for the person obtaining the samples.  Even without federal and state requirements to test water, localities should be able to finance such tests.  Testing does expose another question as well.  Are many of the schools and facilities that would tend to have lead problems in the poorer neighborhoods and communities?

According to the research (Waxman & Thompson, 2016), counties reporting in 2014 on at least 1,000 children with poverty rates at or above the national average, 5% or more of these children had elevated blood lead levels.  With only 26 states reporting, 47 counties have the same problems as Flint.  This research reveals that the problem is more prevalent in poorer communities and the exposure is at astonishing rates.  Advocates for funding lead testing need to be found from private sources or the states.  Lead testing also may be a burden that more fiscally able communities could share.

Much of the research supports the idea that there is some level of danger of lead consumption by children, especially those children with nutritional deficiencies.  The research on the harmful levels of lead in children, however, is mixed at best, with the experts often disagreeing.  Some researchers contend there are no negative effects of low level, short-term lead exposure on children.  Other studies found that there are mental difficulties experienced by children, with little hope of solutions for the pediatric difficulties.  In addition, it is often difficult for researchers to separate and control the variables for research, which would provide significant results one way or the other.

This brings us to the second question.  What research plans do we have to find solutions for the children who already have experienced lead poisoning?  By way of this blog, I am calling on researchers and funding sources to consider this as a priority.  Not only should we assure that all children have clean water—at school, at home, wherever they go—we also need to find assistance for those children who already have been exposed.

References:

Hanna-Attisha, M., LaChance, J., Sadler, C., & Schnepp, A. C.  (2016, February). Elevated blood lead levels in children associated with the flint drinking water crisis:  A spatial analysis of risk and public health response.  American Journal of Public Health Research, 106(2), pp. 283-290.  Downloaded on May 23, 2016 from http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2015.303003

Ossola, A. (2016, May 17).  Lead in Water:  What are the health effects and dangers?  The water in Flint, Michigan could affect children permanently.  Popular Science. Downloaded on May 17, 2016 from http://www.popsci.com/lead-water-what-are-health-effects-dangers

Seewer, J. (2016, April 9). Water with unsafe lead amounts found in hundreds of schools. AP, The Big Story.  Downloaded on May 17, 2016 from http://bigstory.ap.org/article/7ba3df3a85df46ed9c8feeaa1bf14c4f/water-unsafe-lead-amounts-found-hundreds-schools

Shell, E. R. (2016, March 22).  Flint’s lead-laced water may not cause permanent brain damage in children. Scientific American.  Downloaded May 17, 2016 from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flint-s-lead-tainted-water-may-not-cause-permanent-brain-damage/

Taking Action of Flint Water.  Downloaded on May 17, 2016 from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/snyder/FWATF_FINAL_REPORT_21March2016_517805_7.pdf?20160523121255

Waxman, E., & Thompson, M. (2016, April 16).  Poor nutrition leaves kids vulnerable to lead poisoning—no just in Flint.  Urban Wire:  Food and Nutrition.  Downloaded May 18, 2016 from http://www.urban.org/urban-wire/poor-nutrition-leaves-kids-vulnerable-lead-poisoning-and-not-just-flint

More information may be found on the Education Facilities Clearinghouse website:  www.efc.gwu.edu 

Linda Lemasters, Director, Education Facilities Clearinghouse

Linda is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development of The George Washington University.  Her areas of expertise and research include educational planning, facilities management, and women CEOs.  She actively conducts research concerning the effects of the facility on the student and teacher, publishes within her field, and has written or edited numerous books including School Maintenance & Renovation:  Administrator Policies, Practices, and Economics and book chapters including a recent chapter, Places Where Children Play, published July, 2014 in Marketing the Green School:  Form, Function, and the Future.

Koo, Kim, and Hong, 2014

Since the increase in greenhouse gas emissions has increased the global warming potential, an international agreement on carbon emissions reduction target (CERT) has been formulated in Kyoto Protocol (1997). This study aimed to develop a framework for the analysis of the low-carbon scenario 2020 to achieve the national CERT. To verify the feasibility of the proposed framework, educational facilities were used for a case study. This study was conducted in six steps: (i) selection of the target school; (ii) establishment of the reference model for the target school; (iii) energy consumption pattern analysis by target school; (iv) establishment of the energy retrofit model for the target school; (v) economic and environmental assessment through the life cycle cost and life cycle CO2 analysis; and (vi) establishment of the low-carbon scenario in 2020 to achieve the national CERT. This study can help facility managers or policymakers establish the optimal retrofit strategy within the limited budget from a short-term perspective and the low-carbon scenario 2020 to achieve the national CERT from the long-term perspective. The proposed framework could be also applied to any other building type or country in the global environment.

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Asmar, Chokor, and Sroui, 2014

Balancing energy performance and Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) performance has become a conventional tradeoff in sustainable building design. In recognition of the impact IEQ performance has on the occupants of educational facilities, universities are increasingly interested in tracking the performance of their buildings. This paper highlights and quantifies several key factors that affect the occupant satisfaction of higher education facilities by comparing building performance of two campuses located in two different countries and environments. A total of 320 occupants participated in IEQ occupant satisfaction surveys, split evenly between the two campuses, to investigate their satisfaction with the space layout, space furniture, thermal comfort, indoor air quality, lighting level, acoustic quality, water efficiency, cleanliness and maintenance of the facilities they occupy. The difference in IEQ performance across the two campuses was around 17% which lays the foundation for a future study to explore the reasons behind this noticeable variation.

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National Center for Environmental Health

Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected. The most important step parents, doctors, and others can take is to prevent lead exposure before it occurs.

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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2015

Lead is a naturally occurring metal used in the production of fuels, paints, ceramic products, batteries, solder, and a variety of consumer products. The use of leaded gasoline and lead based paint was eliminated or restricted in the United States beginning in the 1970s, resulting in substantial reductions in exposure to lead. However, children continue to be exposed to lead due to the widespread distribution of lead in the environment. For example, children are exposed to lead through the presence of lead-based paint in many older homes, the presence of lead in drinking water distribution systems, and current use of lead in the manufacture of some products.

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CDC, 2013

Elemental lead is a soft, malleable, dense, blue-gray metal that occurs naturally in soils and rocks. Lead is most often mined from ores or recycled from scrap metal or batteries. Elemental lead can be combined with other elements to form inorganic and organic compounds, such as lead phosphate and tetraethyl lead. Lead has a variety of uses in manufacturing: storage batteries, solders, metal alloys (e.g. brass, bronze), plastics, leaded glass, ceramic glazes, ammunition, antique-molded or cast ornaments, and for radiation shielding. In the past, lead was added to gasoline and residential paints and used in soldering the seams of food cans. Lead was used in plumbing for centuries and may still be present.

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NBC News, 2016

The expert who blew the whistle on the Flint water crisis says the only way to protect the nation's school children against lead in drinking water is regular testing of virtually every fountain or sink they might use during the day.

But an NBC News survey of the country's 20 biggest cities shows that very few school districts have met that standard.

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