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.