As communities began to tally up the astronomical costs left in Superstorm Sandy’s wake, there was an unexpected toll to add to the list – the cost of removing asbestos from storm damaged schools. Mark T. Sheehan High School in Wallingford, Connecticut, for example, was forced to close its doors after the winds tore off parts of the roof and littered the second floor with asbestos-contaminated tiles.
Sandy isn’t the only disaster to reveal our country’s asbestos problem – the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, left 2,600 tons of asbestos debris in its wake, much of it from local schools. Cleaning up exposed asbestos is an expensive and dangerous process, but it’s essential to the health of a school community.
About half of the schools in the U.S. were built between 1950 and 1969 – peak years for asbestos use in construction. Exposure to airborne asbestos dust can lead to fatal illnesses, including mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Unfortunately, toxic asbestos is just one of many factors impacting the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of our nation’s public schools and the health of our students and school staff. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), twenty percent of the U.S. population, nearly 55 million people, spend their days in elementary and secondary schools. Of those schools, one in five reported unsatisfactory indoor air quality (IAQ).
“Poor indoor environmental quality contributes to serious health problems for students and staff, including asthma, allergic reactions, fatigue, headaches and respiratory tract infections,” says NEA Health Information Network (NEA HIN) Executive Director Jerry Newberry. “This causes high rates of absenteeism, and dramatically decreases the ability to concentrate and learn when students actually do make it class.”
NEA HIN has addressed the issue of poor IEQ for more than a decade through its IEQ in Schools Program, which educates NEA members and state association staff on how to identify, prevent, and resolve IEQ issues through education, training, and resource development. NEA HIN is also a partner of the U.S. EPA and co-sponsor of their IAQ Tools for Schools (IAQ TfS) program which is a nationwide initiative that helps schools assess, resolve, and prevent IAQ problems.
As part of its ongoing work, NEA HIN is conducting a survey of NEA members nationwide about Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) in their schools. The purpose of the survey is to assess the IEQ conditions of schools nationwide, its impacts on student and staff health and attendance, administrator and affiliate support, and policies that are in place to address IEQ. The results of the survey may be used to create new resources and programs for NEA members as well as drive fundraising efforts for future IEQ projects.
“The results will inform our program going forward so that we can continue to work toward and advocate for optimal IEQ and healthier students and school staff,” says Nora Howley, NEA HIN Manager of Programs.
Keep an eye out for an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. If you receive an email from this address you have been chosen to take the survey. Even if you don’t take the survey we still want to hear from you! Share your experiences and stories around IEQ in schools by emailing email@example.com.