Posts Tagged ‘Schools’

Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano)

A bill filed by Senator Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) – SB 468 – purports to promote “flexibility of the board of trustees of a school district in the management and operation of public schools in the district,” and makes several changes to the law, including class sizes and the repeal of Section 1951.212 of the Occupations Code, the section of state law entitled “Integrated Pest Management Programs for School Districts”.

In 1993, Texas became one of the first states to require schools to use the least toxic methods to control pests. Children are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure as they take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are less able to detoxify toxic chemicals.

According to the group Beyond Pesticides, of the 40 most commonly used pesticides in schools, “28 can cause cancer, 14 are linked to endocrine disruption, 26 can adversely affect reproduction, 26 are nervous system poisons and 13 can cause birth defects.” Texas has been a leader in this area and is one of fifteen states to require least toxic methods (known as “integrated pest management”) at schools to protect our children from exposure to these chemicals.

It’s unclear what the motivation is behind this repeal. In a 2005 Texas AgriLife Extension survey of over 500 Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Coordinators, “53% felt that the IPM requirements had actually reduced long-term costs of pest management. Fifteen percent believed there was no change in cost to the district. Only 18% of districts said that they felt the school IPM regulations had increased the long-term costs of pest control to their district.” Furthermore, “schools were 75% more likely to be satisfied with their pest control program compared to 1993, before the law went into effect. In addition, the study found that 75% of school IPM coordinators believe that the state IPM requirements have resulted in more effective pest management in their districts.”

To read a copy of this bill, click here.  To read the section of the code this bill repeals, click here.  

This bill is expected to be heard in the Senate Education Committee tomorrow.  If you are concerned, please contact committee members to let them know of your concerns. 

Senate Education Committee

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Exactly a month ago today, I was distressed and depressed by USA Today’s investigative report on toxic air quality and America’s schools. But this morning, I was cheered by USA Today’s announcement that… Obama’s pick to head the EPA has pledged to address this very issue!

They report,

President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency promised Wednesday that she would deploy federal regulators to check air quality around schools in response to a USA TODAY investigation that identified hundreds of schools that appeared to be in toxic hot spots.

TRDEPP28 4 KURDZUKThe nominee, Lisa Jackson, told members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that she would “send investigators and samplers out to verify the extent of the problem” and “mobilize” agency efforts within 30 days of her confirmation. Parents, she said, “have a right to know their children are safe when they are in school.”

This is an incredibly important issue, and its good to hear that if chosen, Jackson is committed to protecting the lungs of America’s youth.  We’ll know for sure if she’s official some time after the inauguration.

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Do you like clean air?

Do you like clean air for KIDS?

Seems like the rest of the state does, too.  According to TCEQ, a program to retrofit school buses around the state has been able to retrofit 2300 buses statewide. Even more amazing was the demand for the program exceeding its allotment by 40%, meaning for every 3 school buses we wanted to fix, we could only fix 2.   However, that means that for tens of thousands of kids, they are now riding in much better buses, and those school districts who gut put on the waiting list just have to wait for more money from the Legislature to get their buses clean, too.


A demonstration of how much pollution is prevented on a school bus

Local ISDs, schools, parents, and kids love this program because of how much it reduces toxic air pollution from our buses, and does so without taking money out of the classroom.  Local businesses and residents should love it because it is making their communities cleaner.  This is a win for air quality, a win for school districts, and most importantly, a win for children’s health.

More video, a press release, and gory details after the break: (more…)

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An investigative report by USAToday brought me to tears this morning.

Granted, I am a particularly emotional person at a period of transition in my life. I just started a new job (here, with Public Citizen!) in a new town (loving Austin already), and am living out of a suitcase. Things are rather in flux, and my emotional state may have followed suit. But I think that even beyond all that, USA Today’s recent report finally made air toxics issues hit home.

Cesar Chavez High School In Houston, TX

USAToday’s report, entitled “The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air and America’s Schools”, ranks 127,800 schools nationwide based upon the concentrations and health hazards of the chemicals likely to be in the surrounding air.

The report was initiated after Meredith Hitchens Elementary School in Addyston, Ohio was closed due to the danger posed by the surrounding air. Air monitors placed near the school recorded extremely high levels of toxics coming from the plastics plant across the street. When the Ohio EPA determined that students were being exposed to cancer at levels 50 times higher than what the state deems an acceptable risk, the school was shut down.

Following this story, USAToday spent 8 months examining the extent and danger of schools located in toxic hot spots. Using the EPA’s own models for tracking toxic industrial chemicals, USAToday found 435 schools across the country with air quality worse than that which caused the closure of Hitchens Elementary School. Though the Environmental Protection Agency has a special office dedicated to protecting children’s health, the agency has never used their own data or models to look at potential problems surrounding schools. Nor does the office set health and safety standards for children in schools, as they do for adults in the workplace.

Philip Landrigan, a physician who heads Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s children’s health and the environment unit, comments on this problem in the article:

“The mere fact that kids are being exposed ought to be enough to force people to pay attention. The problem here is, by and large, there’s no cop on the beat. Nobody’s paying attention.”

Children are particularly susceptible to the health risks associated with toxic chemical exposure. Because or their small size, children breathe in more air in relation to their weight than adults. Their bodies are also still in a formative state, making early exposure all the more dangerous. And since kids are required to spend so many childhood hours in school, toxins are likely to accumulate in their bodies and not cause problems until years later.

Unfortunately, the names of several Texas schools peppered this national article. The first was San Jacinto Elementary School in Deer Park:

“At San Jacinto Elementary School in Deer Park, Texas, data indicated carcinogens at levels even higher than the readings that prompted the shutdown of Hitchens. A recent University of Texas study showed an “association” between an increased risk of childhood cancer and proximity to the Houston Ship Channel, about 2 miles from the school.”

The USAToday report’s findings were based upon EPA data and industry estimates. That means, unfortunately, that even what they’ve reported “may be a gross underestimate”, because industries only estimate their emissions. For the most part, dangerous chemical carcinogens such as benzene and butadiene are not monitored because they are not regulated by the EPA. USAToday’s report suggested that Deer Park might be a hot spot particularly worthy of such monitoring because students are exposed to very high levels of carcinogens at area elementary, middle, and high schools – that is, throughout every level of their education and development.

Port Neches-Groves High School in Port Neches, Texas, was featured as a major part of the report. That’s because 27 graduates of Port Neches schools have sued the chemical plants there or there former owners after being diagnosed with cancer… (more…)

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