A new school year, a new article on our country’s lack of safe school siting policies. More evidence that a tidal wave of debate over why building schools on top of contamination land is a bad idea has washed over our country. In fact, that’s exactly what The New York Times article entitled, “Tainted Al Gore School Poster Child For National Toxics Debate”, states. The author, Elena Schor, described the latest in school siting scandals, this one with the just opened Al Gore school in Los Angeles. This school’s contamination is so well known that Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Miller have both mentioned it and its ironic connection to pioneering environmentalists on their shows.
EPA, mandated by Congress in 2007, to create and release voluntary national guidelines on how to safely site a school without exposing students and staff to a cocktail of toxic chemicals in the summer of 2009. Guess what, folks? It’s the summer of 2010 and there are still no such guidelines in the hands of school board members and parents alike. EPA, who was notoriously on permanent vacation during the Bush years, had a late start. Last summer they enlisted a large and diverse stakeholder group to help them craft these guidelines and we have all been waiting patiently since those recommendations were sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
The Carson-Gore Academy of Environmental Sciences, named after lauded environmentalists Rachel Carson and Al Gore, has been built on toxic land. What I find a more important piece of the conversation is that California actually has the toughest school siting regulations and mechanisms in place to prevent such things from happening in the country. The state has been at the forefront of this issue. Just this past weekend, contamination soil was removed from the school prior to its opening on Monday. But I wonder, with mechanisms in place, why did it take until mere hours before students arrived for their first day of school to remove contaminated soil?
As we know from No Child Left Behind and cross district busing, anything related to school districts is much more complicated than meets the eye. Often times, school boards are gifted cheap land by residents or businesses to build a new school. This gifted land is often cheap for a reason. It’s undesirable. Sometimes, many times, that reason is because of past contamination or proximity to a highway or under power lines. All things that can cause life long health problems for the students and faculty that spend so many hours there.
Sometimes nobody in decision making authority even knows that the land has been contaminated. But more often, decision makers simply do not know what to do or how to remediate or have any power to raise enough money to do so if they did know the answers to these questions. EPA’s guidelines are an important step in providing the right tools to those that are in charge of building our nation’s schools. With the average age of our nation’s schools reaching 50 years old, we need these tools more than ever. But what we need more than voluntary guidelines are laws. We must prevent exposing our children to toxic chemicals just by going to school.
Please urge EPA Administrator Jackson to hurry up, release these guidelines and get them in the hands of those that need them. You can leave her a message on her facebook page or you can call her office and leave this simple message “Administrator Jackson, please release the voluntary national guidelines to safe school siting today.”
For a toxic free future,
p.s. Join me on my own blog (Renee Claire) as I leave for New Orleans on September 15 to cover how this city is rebuilding and planting the seeds for a national green energy revolution. I will be updating regularly as I volunteer for the Gulf Restoration Network and interview those working on the front lines in this beautiful city. 202-564-4700.