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National Healthy Schools Day 2021 Build Back Better: GASP Joins the Call for Clean Air in Every School

This year’s National Healthy Schools Day comes at a critical juncture: the nation is working to recover and stabilize from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, reopen all schools, and address the growing crisis caused by climate impacts – impacts that hit the most disadvantaged communities and their schools the hardest.

Schools urgently need to rebuild better after years of institutional and facility neglect.

For two decades, healthy schools advocates have stressed the importance of clean indoor school environments to children’s health and ability to learn. Now, with schools reopening after a year of missed learning for too many children, poor air and water quality, misuse of toxic disinfecting products, no infection control plans, and aged ventilating systems are all challenges to staying fully open.

In fact, too many schools are ill-equipped to provide clean air during an airborne pandemic. These problems are critical challenges and enormous opportunities to Build Back Better.

“Thanks to the Biden Administration and the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), two-year emergency funding is available to schools to improve Indoor Air and address other environmental health hazards. One-hundred million dollars is also available to US EPA to assist states, communities, and schools with their chronic indoor and outdoor air, water, sanitation, and related infrastructure problems,” said Claire Barnett of the New York-based national Healthy Schools Network.

GASP joins the Healthy School Networks and myriad partner organizations in sounding the alarm on these chronic air quality issues facing our school children every day – and demanding better.

 “Children’s exposure to air pollution from nearby industrial sources, as well as diesel exhaust, pesticides, cleaning products, and formaldehyde, can trigger asthma attacks, create new cases of asthma, bring on headaches and nausea, or far worse, cause learning disabilities or cancer,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “Considering more than 50 million American children spend as much as 40 hours a week at school, the quality of that environment can have a significant impact on their health, well-being, and ability to learn.”

To underscore the importance of this issue locally, we want to remind readers about a recent peer-reviewed study conducted by Dr. Deborah Gentile which showed children in Allegheny County living near major pollution sources had nearly triple the prevalence of asthma as compared to the national average.  

The pandemic revealed a shocking lack of coordinated messaging on reopening schools. Today, advocates are calling on the Biden Administration to help schools and children by creating a first-ever Interagency Task Force on Environmental Quality of Schools to consider federal K-12 and child care priorities, strategies, and resources to ensure that all school buildings, especially those in the poorest communities, are ready for the next disaster. In support, Healthy Schools Network is releasing a report of its January 2021 national Summit “COVID, CLIMATE, CHILDREN, AND SCHOOLS” to spur the creation of a national strategy.

Former US EPA Administrator and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute’s K-12 Climate Initiative who provided opening remarks at the Summit, said: “We have a unique opportunity to help our children, our environment, and build back better by recognizing the opportunity our educational system offers us. From the actual school structures themselves to the lessons in and out of the classroom, this report lays out a path forward that can benefit everyone in a community.”

As in previous years, activities to reinforce the National Healthy Schools Day messaging will take place in schools, communities, and cities across the country.

A growing list of planned activities is available here:

https://tinyurl.com/y92pwpk4.

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