On Friday April 30, the Governor of West Virginia held a press conference to announce the secured funding of a new elementary school. Located 300 feet from a coal ash silo due to the practice of mountaintop removal, Marsh Fork Elementary has been the center of a controversial school siting fight for more than 6 years. If you don’t already know, mountaintop removal is a nasty practice of extracting coal by blowing up thousands of years old mountains in communities throughout Appalachia.
Corporate greed, lack of precaution, and a disregard for the value of the people that make up these communities has been putting the children attending Marsh Fork Elementary in unnecessary danger. But last Friday with the announcement of the securement of all the money needed to build a new school, we can celebrate a victory for not only these impacted families, but for all the communities that lack the policies necessary to prevent schools from being built near sources of pollution.
Unsafe school siting is a nationwide problem and there is currently a critical gap in legislation. Despite the health hazards that on-site and off-site environmental contaminants pose to children, 20 states have no laws that restrict the siting of schools near manmade or natural environmental hazards. Only 10 states have laws that prohibit this practice outright.
We must make decisions that impact our children’s health through a lens of precaution as the potential fate of the children at Marsh Fork have told us for years. Children are a vulnerable population. Their bodies are more sensitive than our own and are still developing. Children’s immature systems are less able to handle toxic chemical exposures. For example, children absorb about 50% of the lead to which they are exposed, while adults absorb only 10–15%.
The Center for Health, Environment, and Justice states, "The US mandates its schools to educate our children to become vital contributors to society. Not only is education the foundation of a stable, just society, but critical to national economic competitiveness. Current research shows a 10-point drop in blood lead level means an average 2.8 point IQ gain. Blood lead level plunged 15 points after lead was removed from gasoline in the US. This gives every baby born today a ‘gift’ of four to five IQ points. Conservative calculations suggest each IQ point is worth about $8,300 in additional lifetime income. With about 4 million babies born annually, the elimination of lead has had an economic value of over $100 billion per year for the lifetime of those children."
EPA is nearly one full year behind schedule in releasing federal guidelines that would help to prevent the siting of schools in places like Marsh Fork Elementary currently sits. With declining budgets and an uncertain economy, school districts across the country are faced with the uncertain battle of where to safely site schools and many are left without any guidance. We need EPA to release comprehensive federal guidelines dedicated to community participation and transparency and then we must keep up the pressure in our own communities to adopt these safe school siting policies.
Please call EPA’s Administrator Lisa Jackson at 202-564-4700 Tell her that though the children at Marsh Fork Elementary will soon be protected from irresponsible school siting, EPA must release comprehensive federal guidelines sooner rather than later so that all our children can be protected.
For a toxic free future,
Ps. Help spread the message that passing safe school siting policies are important to the future of our children and the health of our community by sharing this blog post with your friends and family.
 Wise, B. (1997) “Endorcrine disruptors and sexually dimorphic behaviors: a question of heads and tails,” Neurotoxicology 18 (2): 581-586.