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Significance of Environmental Aspects

School Environment – Healthy or Hazardous?

    We like to think schools are safe, healthy places that create an atmosphere conducive to learning, creativity and mind broadening experiences. In some cases, quite the opposite is true.
Modern construction materials, toxic chemical exposure and poor indoor air quality can impede learning, dull mental acuity, induce behavior disorders, and contribute to myriad health problems, not the least of which is asthma.
Parents, educators, and physicians need to become more aware of these environmental issues in order to act as true advocates for children’s health. Administrators, teachers, custodial and cafeteria staff need to learn more about the products they are exposed to in the workplace.
It is naive to expect government regulatory agencies to always act on our behalf. There are too many reasons why this often does not work. This column will highlight a few problems affecting children’s health in the school environment.

Pesticides in Schools

    Schools use toxic chemicals for pest and termite control in buildings; on lawns, trees, and athletic fields; as disinfectants and deodorizers; and as wood preservatives on “treated lumber” in playground equipment.
Synthetic pesticides, largely derived from petroleum products, include insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and rodenticides. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers these products because they are harmful to all living creatures.
It is a federal offense to advertise registered products as safe. Registration merely implies that the active ingredient will do what the label claims – kill or diminish some life form. Using a registered product in a manner not consistent with the directions is also a breach of law.
Pesticides are poisons that not only kill the target pest, but pose a serious threat to other organisms. Repeated exposures to small doses can be very harmful to humans and wildlife.
Some pesticides pose an additional threat because they are long lasting in an indoor environment. Dursban (active ingredient – chlorpyrifos) is one such chemical found to linger on furniture and release vapors into the air weeks after being sprayed.1
 Chlorpyrifos, associated with numerous toxic health effects in children and birth defects in newborns, has finally been restricted by the EPA as of June, 2000, following years of lobbying efforts by health advocacy groups.

Pesticides and Children

    The two major classes of pesticides – organophosphate and carbamate insecticides – kill insects by disrupting nerve transmission. The nervous systems of humans are similarly affected by these neurotoxins.
Pesticides and children are a dangerous mix. Children are not merely miniature adults. They are more susceptible to exposure to pesticides for several reasons. Children play closer to the ground where pesticides are directly sprayed, and on floors or rugs where pesticides are tracked in on shoes.
Children’s unique eating patterns and hand to mouth behavior expose them to more pesticides than adults. They take in more food, water, and air per body weight than adults. Their skin is more absorbent to lipophilic agents than adults.2
 Children’s decreased ability to detoxify and excrete pesticides, and the rapid growth, development, and differentiation of their vital organ systems compounds their risks of exposure to chemicals. Children’s underdeveloped immune systems make them more vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides.3

Pesticide Testing

    Some 70,000 chemicals are in the marketplace, the great majority of which came into use before any testing was mandated. When EPA was created their testing protocol did not even consider the effects of pesticides on children.
Research of chemical toxicity on lab specimens was extrapolated to consider health effects on an adult male weighing 170 pounds. No thought was given to the toxic effects these chemicals would have on a 60 pound child or 30 pound toddler.
Testing is only done on the active ingredient which may compose as little as 1% to 10% of the total product. The other ingredients are listed as “inert,” when they often contain active compounds, some more toxic than the active ingredient listed on the label.4
 Little or no testing is done on the synergistic activity of all ingredients in a marketed product, nor is there any government or industry testing on the adverse or long range effects, or from exposure to multiple products as exist in real life situations.

Carpeting in the Classroom

    In an effort to modernize and quiet down classroom noise many schools now use rugs. However, there is more to carpeting than meets the eye. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by carpet backings and adhesives have been blamed for health problems ranging from nausea to skin irritation.
Synthetic glues and fibers release toxic chemical fumes contributing to indoor air problems. Studies involving carpet installation workers have determined higher levels of leukemia, central nervous system damage, lung, oral, and testicular cancers.
Even small amounts of fumes can cause serious health problems. One study of mice exposed to carpet fumes developed abnormalities of their respiratory, neuromuscular and neurological systems. Many died, and autopsies found kidney damage and lesions in the liver and brain. It didn’t matter if the carpeting was brand new, or twelve years old!5
 To further illustrate the serious health risks associated with carpeting, insurance companies are reluctant to grant life insurance to rug installers, who must first sign a release against future cancers developed down the road.
 There are several things to be aware of concerning carpeting: 1) the glues, latex backings, and rubber padding are all toxic and off-gas, 2) pesticides used to control carpet beetles may include arsenic and benzene, 3) carpets become reservoirs for tracked in pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxins.6

Symptoms of Pesticide Exposure

    Some pesticides used in school buildings and on playing fields may damage the kidneys or liver, and cause tumors or cancer. It is mind boggling to think about young folks engaging in heavy exercise, breathing heavily, and rolling around on pesticide treated turf at schools, parks, and playing fields.
 Additional symptoms of acute pesticide exposure may include headaches, nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, confusion, memory loss, moodiness, learning problems, hyperactivity, fatigue, sleep disorders, loss of coordination, weakness, skin rashes, and respiratory problems.


    Asthma is the 3rd leading cause of hospitalization for children. It is the largest single cause of school absenteeism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma deaths among young adults and children have increased an alarming 118%. This became necessary points to a serious indoor air problem in the school setting.

Aggressive Behavior

    As mentioned previously, there is very little research looking at the cumulative effects of chemical exposure. However a new five-year study at the University of Wisconsin looked at the effects on mice exposed to a mixture of commonly used carbamate insecticides, the triazine herbicides and nitrogen at levels typically found in drinking water.
Findings showed detrimental effects on the nervous, immune and endocrine (hormone) systems which has direct implications for humans. If any of these three closely connected systems is damaged, or degraded, it may have an adverse effect on the others.
Observations included interference in thyroid hormone levels, reduced body weight, immune dysfunction and increased aggressive behavior.
     There is an increase in childhood cancer, asthma and violent behavior. Thus far modern science has produced unsatisfactory answers. Like the song about love, perhaps scientists are looking in all the wrong places. More attention should focus on the synergistic effect of multiple chemicals and multiple exposures.

Pesticide Reduction and Alternatives

    Many localities have adopted pesticide policies or programs that require schools to use integrated pest management (IPM), prohibit use of toxic pesticides, and/or provide prior notification of pesticide application. IPM is a process that reduces dependence on toxic chemicals by seeking alternative approaches to dealing with pests by sealing off routes of entry, removing water and food attractants, using natural fertilizer for proper field maintenance, and substituting more natural cleansers and disinfectants.
Because of a growing awareness about pesticide exposure some communities are introducing legislation that will give neighbors advance notice of when a commercial pesticide application will occur. This allows neighbors to take necessary precautions to close their windows, keep children and pets indoors, or leave for a few hours if they choose.
Such a bill had been tossed around the New York State Legislature for three years. In response to the Long Island breast cancer activists the NY Assembly supported a bill which would include notification to parents of daycare centers and school children. The NY Senate not only left these important aspects out of their version, but bowing to industry demands, they decided the bill should be optional for each county within the state.
 Rather than suffer another defeat, environmental advocates pushed for passage of the weakened Senate bill (June, 2000) and immediately embarked on amending it to include daycare centers and schools. I mention this to illustrate how “government” often favors the interests of industry over the interests of public health, in this case the health of children.

Invisible Danger from Power Lines

   Cell Towers

    As though high voltage transmission lines were not enough of a menace, a new threat looms on the horizon (no pun intended). Cell towers are popping up all over the landscape. The rapidly expanding telecommunications industry finds schools to be very desirable sites.
 Offers from telecommunications companies to rent space are very tempting to school districts struggling to balance budgets. Industries reps are quick to point out there are no definitive studies “proving” a connection to cancer. It is not even legal for citizens to raise health concerns regarding placement of cell towers in their communities. Washington Wakening

    It may be a while before progress is made about EMF exposure, but to finish up on a positive note there is something afoot regarding pesticides in the school environment.

LAKSHMIPAT SINGHANIA SCHOOL, JayKay Gram, Kankroli, Rajsamand, Rajasthan Tel : 232141, 232280, 232090 Ext 412, 419, 436 email -