Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Healthy and Safe School Environment, Part II, Physical School Environment: Results from the School Health Policies and Programs Study 2006

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

Healthy and Safe School Environment, Part II, Physical School Environment: Results from the School Health Policies and Programs Study 2006

Article excerpt

A child typically spends about 1300 hours in a school building each year, and teachers and other staff are there even longer. (1) In 1998, the average school building was 42 years old, and more than 75% of America's schools were built before 1970. (2) Many school buildings are in poor condition and present environmental conditions that inhibit learning and pose unnecessary, increased health risks to students and staff. (3) As society continues to focus on the importance of academic achievement, the school physical environment should be addressed as a critical factor that influences academic outcomes.

The toll that environmental hazards take on children's health is not completely understood, nor has it been quantified. Nonetheless, environmental exposure to air pollution, lead in paint and drinking water, tobacco smoke, radon, asbestos, and many pesticides and other chemicals in and around school environments is known to be hazardous to children's health. (4-7) In addition, biological contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, and allergens that are known to contribute to childhood diseases are commonly found in school environments. (5-7)

The extent to which environmental hazards negatively affect children depends in part on the developmental stage of the exposed child. In other words, during each developmental stage, different kinds of exposure have different effects. Young children are possibly at greater risk of exposure to environmental hazards than adults in that, especially during play, they breathe air closer to the floor, where some metals, gases, and chemicals settle (eg, lead, radon, mercury, and pesticides). (8)

Because children have higher metabolic rates than adults do, they consume more oxygen relative to their size than adults do. (8,9) Children tend to spend more time outside than most adults and, while outside, often engage in physical activities that increase their breathing rates, thereby increasing their exposure to air particulates, ozone, and other forms of air pollution. (9) Damage to the lungs during development, through exposure to indoor or outdoor air pollution, may interfere with proper lung development and may lead to chronic lung disease later in life. (4) Because of their higher metabolic rate, children also consume, relative to their size, more calories than adults do in the form of fruits and vegetables that may have been treated with harmful pesticides. (4,8,9)

Furthermore, the brain is not fully developed until adolescence, and thus, children's brains are more vulnerable than adults' brains to such toxins as metals, solvents, insecticides, and certain gases. (8,10) Also, because of their potentially longer life span, children have more time than adults to develop environmentally triggered diseases. (11)

Poor indoor air quality (IAQ), diesel exhaust emitted from school buses, hazardous materials, pesticides, contaminated drinking water, and lead are environmental hazards that sometimes are found in schools and can adversely affect the health, attendance, and academic success of students, as well as the health of teachers and other staff. (12-22)

indoor Air Quality

Studies conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest that the levels of many pollutants can be 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. (23,24) Outdoor air pollutants, such as pollen, dust, fungal spores, industrial and vehicle emissions, and radon, can be drawn in from outdoors. Sources of indoor pollutants include emissions from office equipment (eg, volatile organic compounds or ozone), new furnishings and finishes (eg, flooring, paint, caulk, and adhesives), vocational art supplies, cleaning products, pesticides, insects, and cigarette smoke. Indoor air pollutants can originate within the building's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment through microbiological growth in drip pans, ductwork, coils, and humidifiers; improper venting of combustion products; and dust or debris in ductwork. …

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