In thousands of homes and on social media posts across the land, you saw the annual notice heralding the end of summer vacation: “Summer is over and the kids are back in school”. Some will cry, some will cheer, some will only shrug their shoulders. No matter what we do or say, every school year, the emotion, and the back to school sales come to an end and attention shifts to the students actually being in school.
That is “all as it should be” with each new school year. The sad news is that the “welcome back student” message has been accompanied with too many news stories about mold being found in our nation’s schools. It is not an accident that “National Mold Awareness Month” is September.
The bottom line on this is that parents DO NOT want their child sick because they go to school. Our schools that have mold are like the “Jaws” movies. Just when you think it is safe to return, we find out that it is “not so safe.”
When we experience any school environmental issue such as mold, it can be front page headlines, TV, talk show fodder and Facebook news feed material.
Environmental issues in schools are not “just another student health issue”. These problems are a public relations nightmare, a staff human relations mine field, a facility management challenge, a budget buster, a political fiasco and a liability time bomb.
Signs of Mold in School
If a school is flooded or has leaks that are not quickly cleaned up, there will be mold. Whether it is a roof leak, plumbing leak or any other area of wet surfaces, you can count on mold growing.
Parents should take a look around their child’s school. Water stains are the target to look for. Fuzzy or splotchy areas are the bullseye in the search for suspected mold. These can be in almost any area of a building anywhere from the highest ceiling to the lowest floor.
In addition to the visual indicators of mold presence, odor can be indicator. When the odor of mold is in the school or on a child’s clothes, books, papers or possessions, mold should be investigated as a source of the offensive smell.
Sewage backups, leaks and all floods also have a host of water borne diseases and contaminants. When these occur, a professionally conducted disinfection must be conducted even when mold is not visible. Even a little dust left in an obscure corner after the flood is gone can enter through a cut in a student’s hand or their lungs long after the water is gone if the areas has not been disinfected.
The issue of needing
healthy classrooms concerns most of us. They are essential for quality
comprehension and education as well the welfare of your youth.
One of many examples
is lead poisoning. The ingestion of lead from peeling paint affects the soft
tissue of a child. It can permanently affect the IQ of a child and cause
behavioral problems that affect them the rest of their life. Ingestion can be
secondary from hidden causes. It could be dust from the paint in the closet
where classroom books are stored over the summer. Lead dust can come from peeling paint scrapings
when a cafeteria is painted or on china plates used to serve lunches. The
source can be imported plastic toys in a kindergarten. There are a host of
other potential issues including pesticide residues, radon, fumes from idling
buses, mold, CO or CO2.
We know that there are classrooms and school buildings
that are making our children sick. Parents and teachers often do not know where
to start to identify or correct the situation.
That is nothing new.
We tend to think that today’s problem is a new problem, and often it isn’t. The
quote below “says it all” in that regard.
“In the construction of buildings, whether for public
purposes or as dwellings, care should be taken to provide good ventilation and
plenty of sunlight….schoolrooms are often faulty in this respect. Neglect of proper ventilation is responsible
for much of the drowsiness and dullness that….make the teacher’s work toilsome
-Health Reformer, 1871
How could we ignore our children’s health?
We know enough to want our kids to have a safe and healthy home. We are wise enough to know that being healthy as a child leads to better health as an adult. We have learned that exposing our children to mold, lead, asbestos, radon, VOC’s, pesticides, MRSA and other toxins needs to be stopped. We know that children do not learn as well when they are sick from environmental hazards. We understand the defects like lead that can cause brain damage or mold that can result in a child becoming an asthmatic.
What are we thinking if we are not willing to deal with these issues?
I admit there are barriers to doing a good job in providing healthy buildings for our kids. Together, we need to look at that set of obstacles and get past them.
Barriers to Environmental Health Action
Funding: It takes money to identify and correct the problems
Knowledge: There is a shortage of environmental consultants who are qualified to look at all of the risks
Inertia: We do things “the way we always have done them.” Change to do new programs often waits until someone becomes seriously ill.
PR Risk: It is crazy, but when we identify a problem to fix it, we can get public outrage and negative press. It is easier to turn a blind eye and mot know what is a problem
Untrained staff: The people in the classroom are often not be trained to identify the unhealthy conditions
Compartmentalized workers: We look at our own issues. An example: The person in charge of storing books may not recognize lead dust from the peeling paint in the book closet as a hazard.
No good place to start: Any major effort should have a start and goals. Where do we find those?
No “band leader””: There needs to be a person who is granted authority to act.
Technician’s treat conditions as events, not deal with the process: An example would be painting over mold so that it is not visible instead of looking for the HVAC, plumbing or roof defect that caused the mold.
This is a daunting list of challenges. We want to start the process of getting past those barriers that can affect the health of our children and solutions to create a healthier environment in our schools
Our exposing our youth to mold, lead, asbestos, radon, VOC’s, pesticides, MRSA and other toxins needs to be stopped. It starts with education about these issues and each of us. Check back with us for videos and postings to identifying and solving environmental hazards in schools.