Group Tackles Environmental Hazards At Pennsylvania Schools

May 11, 2016

Schools across the country -- including in Pennsylvania -- are testing their drinking water for lead in the wake of the crisis in Flint, Mich.
Credit Ted S. Warren / AP

When you send your kids off to school in the morning, you expect they’ll be safe. But the group Healthy Schools Pennsylvania says that environmental hazards in and around schools are often being overlooked.

In fact, one in six Americans who set foot in a school building everyday can be exposed to environmental toxins like pesticides and asbestos, according to Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director of Women for a Healthy Environment, which runs the Healthy Schools PA program. She says Pennsylvania could be doing more to keep students, teachers and staff in schools safe—particularly, when it comes to environmental hazards like radon.

“We have many states that have passed bills that require radon testing once every five years,” she says. “We have testing of our homes when we have a home transfer, but we don’t have that in our schools.”Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. At a recent summit on school safety in Pittsburgh, Naccarati-Chapkis’ group recognized eight Pennsylvania schools that are taking steps to protect their students and staff from environmental risks.

“One school completely switched to green cleaning products. We’ve had 20 school buildings that have tested for lead in their water.”

The Healthy Schools PA program provides free lead testing kits and works with an independent lab. Naccarati-Chapkis says even incremental or low-cost efforts—like keeping kids off the playground on air quality action days—can make a big difference.

Find more of this report on the site of our partner, Keystone Crossroads