green schools

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Texas schools within a short distance too close to chemical facilities that can result in exposures and serious harm to young school children. 27 schools with a population of 25,968 students at risk in one area alone.

CHEJ has developed guidelines to avoid such situation in the future when building schools.  Check them out and get your school board to adopt policies before it’s too late for your district. Click here for more information.

Michelle Obama let's Move

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Celebrate the 4th Anniversary of Let’s Move! by Showing the First Lady How You Move

Four years ago, the First Lady launched Let’s Move!, a nationwide initiative to create a healthier future for our kids and families. Today, Let’s Move! has moved the nation in a healthier direction. Read about the many Let’s Move! successes here.  To demonstrate the national scope of this movement, the First Lady is encouraging people of all ages, to show her how they move – through their everyday fitness routine, making better food choices, or by moving their community toward that new norm – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc. using #LetsMove.  Click here to watch the First Lady explain this online challenge.>>>

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How to Create Greener and Healthier Schools for Children and Teachers

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WHEN: Thursday May 23 – 4:30pm – 5:45 pm

WHERE: Free Webinar From Your Home/Computer

RSVP online at: http://bit.ly/healthyschoolswebinar

Healthy schools that are free from toxic chemicals are critical to children’s health. Unfortunately school building materials and products can contain chemicals harmful to children’s health that have been linked to asthma, learning and developmental disabilities, cancer and other serious health problems on the rise.  For example, hazardous chemicals and materials like mercury, phthalates, vinyl and halogenated flame retardants have been found in lighting, flooring, office supplies, and/or other products in schools. The good news is safer and affordable alternatives are available for schools and parents to use and purchase.

Learn how you can encourage your school to be greener and healthier by launching an environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) program.

Join this free webinar sponsored by NYS United Teachers (NYSUT), the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) and the Green Schools Alliance.

RSVP online at: http://bit.ly/healthyschoolswebinar

Questions? Contact mike@chej.org / 212-964-3680.

Funding provided by the NYS Pollution Prevention Institute through a grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.   Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

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When our children are sent off to day care – are they breathing in toxic phthalates?

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When considering day care, more than a few related topics could come to mind: children, toys, play, and a safe environment are probably some to just name a few. However, although children at day care may be under the supervision of responsible adults and having a great time with their playmates, they may be at risk for a danger most parents would have no idea about — toxic chemicals in the day care environment.

A new study of day care centers found a toxic cocktail of chemicals lurking in the air and dust, including phthalates, chemicals that are so toxic they’ve been banned in toys across the globe.

The research, funded by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), is the first-ever detailed analysis of environmental contaminants and exposures for California day care centers. It covered 40 early childhood education facilities.

“Children are more vulnerable to the health effects of environmental contaminants, and many small children spend as much as 10 hours per day, five days a week, in child care centers,” said study lead author Asa Bradman, associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health (CERCH).

Phthalates Widespread in Daycare Centers

Phthalates are chemicals commonly used to make vinyl building materials such as flooring soft and flexible.  These building materials are commonly used in schools and day care centers, even though safer biobased alternatives like linoleum are available.

In the new study, phthalates were found in 100% of the air and dust samples inside daycare centers.  The report noted that,

“Phthalate compounds, detected in 100% of the air and dust samples, have been shown to disrupt normal hormone function in animals. There are no health-based benchmarks to evaluate phthalate levels in air. Of all compounds measured in dust, the highest were the phthalates di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), with medians of 172.2 and 46.8 μg/g, respectively.”

Oy.  Every single sample.

Phthalates have no place inside day care centers or schools, and are brought to us by BIG CHEM.  They are harmful to children’s health.  The researchers stated that

“Phthalate compounds are on the California Proposition 65 list as developmental toxins, and have been found to contaminate indoor environments.Studies have associated phthalate exposures with bronchial obstruction, allergies, and asthma in young children, and they are likely endocrine disruptors in humans.”

US EPA: Children Face Highest Exposures to Phthalates

According to the EPA,

“Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey (NHANES) indicates widespread exposure of the general population to phthalates. Biomonitoring data from amniotic fluid and urine have demonstrated that humans are exposed to phthalates in utero, as infants, during puberty, and in adult life, and that people are exposed to several phthalates at once…NHANES detected a DEHP urinary metabolite in 78% of the 2541 samples tested with women having a higher exposure than men. Children have been reported as having the highest exposures; specifically to DEHP, DBP, BBP and DnOP…Children are exposed to phthalates through environmental sources (e.g., air, water, food) as well as consumer products (e.g., toys)…Children’s estimated exposures are often greater than those in adults which may be due to increased intakes of food, water, and air on a bodyweight basis, as well children’s unique exposure pathways such as mouthing of objects and ingestion of non-food items. The 1999-2000 and 2001-2002 biomonitoring data in the Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals demonstrate that children have the highest exposures to phthalates of all groups monitored, and other biomonitoring data indicate in utero exposures to phthalates.”

Phthalates Banned in Toys in the US and Around the World

Phthalates were banned in toys in the United States in 2008.  Similar bans have been enacted by the states of California, Washington and Vermont.

Restrictions or bans have been placed on phthalates in PVC toys in the entire European Union, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Iceland Mexico, Norway, and Sweden.

While phthalates have been banned in toys, similar protections do not exist for day care centers and our schools.

Insane right?

Why are they still allowed in daycare centers and schools?

Jan2010Asthma

Phthalates and Asthma: What’s going on with NYC children?

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I have asthma.   Just like millions of other Americans.

That’s why I was upset when only a week after we released our new report that found high levels of phthalates in children’s vinyl back-to-school supplies, researchers at Columbia University published a major new study linking phthalates to asthma in NYC children.

“While many factors contribute to childhood asthma, our study shows that exposure to phthalates may play a significant role,” says Allan Just, PhD, first author on the new Center study and current postdoctoral researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Phthalates are chemicals used to soften vinyl plastic, chemicals manufactured by big corporations like Exxon Mobil.

Phthalates in Harlem and Bronx children.

In the study, researchers found phthalates in the bodies of every single one of the 244 school-aged children in the study, ages 5 to 9. Every single one!  Do you believe that?!

All of the children live in Northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, where the rates of asthma are high.

Higher levels of two different phthalates were associated with higher levels of nitric oxide in exhaled breath, which apparently is a biological marker of airway inflammation. They also found phthalate exposure and airway inflammation was especially strong among children who had recently reported wheeze, a common symptom of asthma.

One of the phthalates they investigated, butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP), is commonly used to soften vinyl flooring in NYC schools and others across the country.

Not the first, and probably not the last.

In recent years, a number of other studies have found a correlation between phthalates emitted from vinyl products and asthma. A few highlights:

  • A study published in 2009 found a statistically significant link between PVC flooring and asthma.
  • A 2008 study found an association between concentrations of phthalates in indoor dust and wheezing among preschool children.  The presence of PVC flooring in the child’s bedroom was the strongest predictor of respiratory ailments.
  • A study of 10,851 children found the presence of floor moisture and PVC significantly increased the risk of asthma.
  • A study of adults working in rooms with plastic wall covering materials were more than twice as likely to develop asthma.

Asthma on the rise.

The new research comes at a time when asthma has been skyrocketing in our communities.

In the last decade, the proportion of people with asthma in the United States grew by nearly 15%. 

Today, one out of every 11 school-age children has asthma. In fact, asthma is a leading cause of school absenteeism: 10.5 million school days are missed each year due to asthma.  About 9 people die from asthma each day.

Additionally, asthma costs the United States $56 billion each year.  That’s right. 56  B-I-L-L-I-O-N.

What can we do?

We know phthalates have been linked to asthma, not to mention many other health problems.  We know there are safer alternatives. We don’t need to use vinyl school supplies, flooring and other products in our schools in the first place.  Why take an unnecessary risk with children’s health?

Chemicals that have been linked to asthma have no place in our children’s schools.

Getting these harmful chemicals out of our schools is a common sense precautionary solution.

Don’t you agree?

More than half of the United States is currently in drought

“The Story of Change,” Climate Change, and PVC-Free Schools

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Two great new pieces of activist reporting came out last week, and both dovetail perfectly with our work to get PVC, the poison plastic (a k a vinyl), out of NYC schools. Check them out!

More than half of the United States is currently in drought

“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” a feature article in Rolling Stone by Bill McKibben, lays out three numbers that may well define the future of our planet: how much warmer we can “safely” allow the climate to get; how much carbon we can burn without going over; and how much carbon is currently planning to be burned by the oil and gas industry. (Hint: that last one is about five times larger than the second one.)

McKibben’s frightening conclusion is that unless the international community (i.e. we) demands that Exxon, Chesapeake, and the other oil, gas, and coal giants keep about 80% of their current reserves in the ground, unused, uncontrollable climate destabilization is inevitable. Problem is, that would mean about $20 trillion in losses for these companies, giving them roughly unlimited financial (if not human) incentive to block legislation forcing them to do it.

In short, we have our work cut out for us. Enter the latest installment from Story of Stuff Project:

 

Story of Change

The animated web-comic “The Story of Change” by Annie Leonard and her team takes viewers through a six-and-a-half minute tour of how citizens can bring about the environmentally sustainable, people-centered, non-toxic, socially equitable economy that we want.

Her prescription? [Big idea] + [people] + [action] = CHANGE. It’s a convincing argument, and one that we’ll need to take to heart if we’re going to keep the fossil fuel industry’s equation from stealing the future.

 

So what’s the connection to PVC-free schools for New York City?

Dow Chemicals Vinyl Plant in Freeport, TX.Photo: Greenpeace USA 2011

First, it can save energy.

The vinyl 3-ring binders, floor tiles, and examination gloves found throughout the NYC school system don’t just release harmful toxins into the air. They also take enormous amounts of energy to produce. PVC plastic is made up of about 40% chlorine, and chlorine production is one of the most energy intensive (not to mention dangerous) industrial processes in the world. According to Joe Thornton, PhD, of the Healthy Building Network, “Chlorine production for PVC consumes an estimated 47 billion kilowatt hours per year — equivalent to the annual total output of eight medium-sized nuclear power plants.”

By spending its multi-million dollar purchasing budget on safer, cost-effective alternatives to PVC, the NYC school system can better protect its students, teachers, and staff, and help drive producers away from this costly, energy-intensive material.

Second, we’re using a big idea, building people power, and taking action!

We’re bringing together parents, teachers, students, doctors, environmental justice activists, labor unions, and more to stand behind a clear message: PVC is the wrong choice for NYC school supplies and construction materials. Click here to join the effort!

CPOC is now CEHP. Click to learn more!

CHEJ’s Childproofing Our Communities (CPOC) campaign is now called the Children’s Environmental Health Program (CEHP).

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NEW NAME.  SAME CRITICAL FOCUS.

The founder and Executive Director of CHEJ, Lois Gibbs, was compelled to address children’s environmental health issues when in 1978 she discovered that her child’s school, her home and those of her neighbors were sitting on top of 20, 000 tons of toxic chemicals that was affecting the health of her family and her neighbors. Thru her struggle to demand justice for Love Canal residents, she discovered that no local, state or national organization existed to provide communities with strategic advice, guidance, training and technical assistance. The Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ) was created to address environmental toxins threatening communities.

After working with thousands of families seeking assistance on children’s environmental health issues, the Childproofing Our Communities (CPOC) Campaign was created in 2000 by a coalition of concerned parents, grandparents, and school employees to address health and environmental issues that affect the students and staff at the school. The coalition became the guiding force for CHEJ’s Child Proofing Our Communities Campaign which identified the main focus of collective work on school siting.

In 2011, the EPA released its School Siting Guidelines that will assist local decision makers with where to site a new school and consider environmental factors when making that decision. Over the years, CPOC in conjunction with local community leaders has been instrumental in holding federal/ state/ local agencies accountable for addressing environmental issues that may harm a school environment. The final release of these guidelines was an extraordinary victory demonstrating the power of the grassroots!

NEW NAME. Often people were confused about the focus of CPOC and could not relate to the name Childproofing Our Communities. In continuing with the tradition of educating and empowering communities, CHEJ changed the name to the Children’s Environmental Health Program (CEHP). We listened and changed the campaign name to make sure everyone understood the intent of our program.

SAME CRITICAL FOCUS. Not a new project or campaign but a renewed dedication to tackling the tough subject area of addressing environmental hazards that could pose a threat to children where they live, play, learn, eat, and pray.

New Resources. If you have not visited our website lately, www.chej.org, check out new resources and tools available to assist you with your local fight.

Rather it’s tackling:

a proposal to build a new school near an industrial complex- check out our new school siting fact sheets that can help with organizing the community and assist in enacting a local policy;

dealing with an existing school built before 1979 that has fluorescent light fixtures that contain a banned, toxic substance called PCB – our PCB-Free School Zone has fact sheets that gives an overview of the problem of PCBs in schools and identify action steps that can be taken to address              contamination;

or interested in learning more about PVC- free products –  the PVC-Free Schools campaign encourages schools to get rid of the poison plastic in favor of safer alternatives

We have a wealth of resources and tools available to assist you with your local issue.

Focus on Schools. Focus on Schools webpage is a snapshot of projects and resources CHEJ offers on its website that pertains to schools and children’s environmental health. You will also find this information on CHEJ’s campaign web pages.


Green Flag Program. The Green Flag School Program for environmental leadership provides a framework for students to become environmental leaders and contribute to positive change in their communities.  Through the free program, students of all ages learn environmental concepts, investigate their schools, and identify solutions for making their schools safer and healthier.

For additional information or questions, please contact CHEJ at (703) 237-2249 or chej@chej.org.

jumpinghorse

NYC’s Schools Plan to go Green in the Great Indoors

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The city recently released 25 pages of proposed regulations that would impact construction, renovation and maintenance practices in hundreds of city-owned and -leased buildings and other spaces. The new rules require materials, supplies and equipment to be more environmentally friendly — either less toxic, more energy-efficient or more recycled. Read more.

children playing on coal-tar sealed pavement

Study finds risk to children from coal-tar sealants

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Children living next to driveways or parking lots coated with coal tar are exposed to significantly higher doses of cancer-causing chemicals than those living near untreated asphalt, according to a study that raises new questions about commonly used pavement sealants.

Researchers from Baylor University and the U.S. Geological Survey also found that children living near areas treated with coal-tar-based sealants ingest twice as many polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from contaminated dust tracked into their homes as they do from food.

The peer-reviewed study, and other new research documenting how coal-tar sealants emit high levels of troublesome chemicals into the air, comes as several cities in the Midwest, South and East are trying to ban the products’ use on playgrounds, parking lots and driveways. Some major retailers have pulled the products from their shelves, but coal-tar sealants remain widely available elsewhere.

“There’s been a long-held assumption that diet is the major source of exposure for children,” said Peter Van Metre, a USGS scientist who co-authored the studies. “But it turns out that dust ingestion is a more significant pathway.”

About 85 million gallons of coal-tar-based sealants are sold in the United States every year, mostly east of the Mississippi River, according to industry estimates. The sealants, promoted as a way to extend the life of asphalt and brighten it every few years with a fresh black sheen, are sprayed by contractors or spread by homeowners.

During the past decade, studies have identified coal-tar sealants as a major source of PAHs, toxic chemicals that can cause cancer and other health problems. Pavement sealants made with coal tar can contain as much as 50 percent PAHs by weight, substantially more than alternatives made with asphalt.

Anne LeHuray, executive director of the Pavement Coatings Technology Council, an industry trade group, said she was reviewing the new findings.

“It appears they have some other agenda here, which is to ban coal-tar-based pavement sealants,” she said of the government scientists.

LeHuray and other industry representatives have argued that vehicle exhaust, wood smoke and grilled hamburgers are more significant sources of the toxic chemicals than coal tar.

But the latest USGS research estimates that annual emissions of PAHs from the application of coal-tar-based sealants exceed the amount from vehicle exhaust. Two hours after application, emissions were 30,000 times higher than those from unsealed pavement, one of the new studies found. Parking lots with 3- to 8-year-old sealant released 60 times more PAHs to the air than parking lots without sealant.

By Michael Hawthorne of the Chicago Tribune

The studies are published in the scientific journals Chemosphere, Atmospheric Environment and Environmental Pollution.

[Read more and to download study]