school siting guidelines

Air pollution

Chicago, We have a Problem! Another School Siting Gone Bad

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Since 2000, CHEJ’s Childproofing Our Communities (CPOC) campaign has been working on environmental school based issues and specifically school siting. What is school siting? School Siting is the process of where to locate a school facility. For decades this has been a contentious problem for decision makers because often where to place a school can be influenced by the budget. Decision makers have been enticed into purchasing ridiculously low cost land or property often not taking into consideration the cost to remediate or clean-up any toxic contamination. This oversight has cost school districts extra millions of dollars to clean-up site and even more because often on-going monitoring must be put in place.

There have been many examples of poor planning of where to place a school. The Belmont Learning Complex in Los Angeles was built on top of a former oil field full of explosive and toxic gases and other contaminants. The full environmental assessment was not completed until after $123 million was already put into the project. The site was them abandoned due to the health and safety concerns. A new school was built after a thorough cleanup. Over $300 million was spent on the project!

Now in Chicago there are plans to locate an elementary school on contaminated land in an industrial area. The proposed site is near a power plant and in an area already documented to have the state’s highest levels of toxic chromium and sulfates, a hazardous air pollutant and probable human carcinogen. [Read More]

The economic advantage that school boards hope for with the purchase of a contaminated site is rarely as beneficial as designed. Often the ones who have very little input in the process suffer the most, children. The community can have input in this process by making sure your state have some type of school siting policy. In October 2011, the EPA released its School Siting Guidelines to assist school districts in assessing environmental factors when deciding where to place a school. Although guidelines  does not pertain to existing schools, it can be used as a tool to enact a policy in your area and assess existing schools for potential environmental hazards.

Check out CHEJ’s School Siting Toolkit for additional information on how to take action on where to place a school facility in your area.

CHEJ’s Focus on Schools webpage offer resources on other children’s environmental health issues.  

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Concerned about Pollution Near Schools…The EPA has a Guide for That

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EPA Releases Voluntary Guidelines to Aide School Districts when Building a New School

It’s finally here!
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its voluntary School Siting Guidelines. Now school districts can look towards a federal policy model on guidance when constructing a new school facility. We applaud the EPA for gathering community input when constructing these guidelines. Communities across the country can use this tool to help facilitate siting a school that ensures the safety of children and staff.
CHEJ Leading the Way
For a decade, CHEJ has been working with concerned parents groups, teachers’ unions and community groups to address a range of toxic hazards facing schools in America. The problem of building schools in contaminated areas was first discovered in 1979 when the Niagara Falls 99th St. School was found next to the Love Canal site containing 20,000 tons of toxic waste. This should have served as a warning. Sadly, it did not. Thousands of schools are located near toxic waste sites or major sources of air pollution, such as chemical plants or incinerators.
“It is in excusable to place school children in harm’s way”, said Lois Gibbs, Executive Director of CHEJ. “Children are required by law to go to school. Schools must be a safe place for children to learn and play not a place that endangers their health and ability to learn.”
In 2002, CPOC and partner organizations analyzed five states: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California, and Michigan. The purpose of this analysis was to approximate how many public schools were within ½ mile of a known contaminated site. The results were astounding! Over 1,100 schools in just these five states are within ½ mile of a contaminated site, negatively impacting the health of over 600,000 students.
The EPA approved the construction of the Keith Middle School in New Bedford, MA the cleanup, or “remediation” of the former Parker Street Waste Site and construction of the school complex has cost taxpayers to date $78 million of the $103.6 million budget for the project. Toxic chemicals found at the site are: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals, including arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury. If exposed, some of these chemicals can pose health hazards. Read more …
Then in 2005, CHEJ analyzed how many states regulate school siting (50 State Survey Table Results and Column Description) and take into consideration potential site contamination. Only five states have any law that makes it illegal to build a school on a contaminated site. The other 45 states are mostly silent. With health experts, engineers, and community organizations, CHEJ created its own model of School Siting Legislation. Communities can use the model as a base to create laws that fit their specific needs and criteria in their local area.
In 2007, President Bush signed Subtitle E of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, instructing the EPA to develop the nation’s first ever school siting guidelines to give state legislatures direction in where schools maybe physically located in relationship to toxic contaminated sites.
Since 2008, CHEJ has been leading the charge to urge the EPA to fulfill its mandate. We built an alliance of parents, teachers, unions, professionals and other stakeholders to force the EPA to address the problem of schools being built near sources of pollution.
Coming Soon …
In November 2011, CPOC will be releasing resources that will further assist communities that are dealing with sources of pollution near schools (new or existing).
The final release of the EPA School Siting Guidelines was an extraordinary victory demonstrating the power of the grassroots!
If we work together, our voices will be heard!
For additional information, contact Makia Burns, CHEJ’s Childproofing Our Communities Campaign Coordinator at (703) 237-2249 x21.