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Renee Blanchard's picture

The Texas PTA passed a resolution demanding safe school siting policies throughout the state at its annual convention this February. This isn’t the first time PTA has shown leadership on this issue. In Fall of 2009, Alabama PTA passed a similar policy when a railroad company proposed building a transportation hub 150 feet away from an elementary school. Parents and teachers are showing leadership when our elected officials are not.

In 2008, a group in Texas called the Clean Schools Initiative helped introduce a state bill that would require school districts to assess the environmental quality of proposed school sites and provide a space for meaningful public participation in the decision to purchase new land. The bill received tremendous support, but failed to pass that session. Cyndi along with Christine Ackerson and other concerned parents started Clean Schools Initiative after learning that their community’s new elementary school was going to be built INSIDE an old chemical facility.

Cyndi O’Rourke stated in a speech to the convention, “We were fortunate that our school district took the necessary steps to remediate.  I do fear for schools in areas with low parent involvement or districts that may not have had the money to do proper remediation.  Their schools may not have been so lucky.  It was this realization that opened my eyes to a greater need for legislation to protect our schools.”

Support for bills like the one the Cleans Schools Initiative championed in Texas is spreading across the country as parents, school nurses, and concerned community members are realizing that no such policies exist in many states and communities. Why these policies aren’t getting passed is beyond my imagination, but here are four reasons why you should introduce a similar resolution to your PTA and school board.

Children’s developing systems make them more vulnerable to chemical exposure. During prenatal development, infancy, and adolescence, children are growing and adding new tissue more rapidly than at any other period of life, which makes children are susceptible to environmental chemical influences.

Preventing toxic exposure of children protects the entire community. Safe siting policies will prevent toxic exposures to children and school staff through reducing their daily exposures to chemicals that can cause cancer, immune system impairments, birth defects, learning disabilities, asthma, and other health problems.

Children’s bodies are more sensitive than adults. Children are less able to handle toxic chemical exposures. Children breathe more air and eat more per pound than adults. For example, children absorb about 50% of the lead to which they are exposed, while adults absorb only 10-15%.

Natural activities of children leave them more susceptible to chemical exposure. Normal school activities heighten children’s exposure to the impacts of pollution. After school sports, recess, classes in which children explore the school’s site ecosystem, children’s natural curiosity, tendency to explore, and inclination to put their hands in their mouths all opens them to high levels of exposure.

The Center for Health, Environment and Justice released a Safe School Siting Toolkit last September that holds a lot useful information on how to pass a resolution like the Texas PTA, including sample resolutions that you can copy for your own community. This is the perfect time of year to gather some of your fellow parents and start discussing how you’re going to pass a safe school siting policy.

For a toxic free future,

Renee Claire

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