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EPA OpEd: Guarding Children's Health, Investing in the Future

Release Date: 10/26/2006
Contact Information: Kathleen Nagle, EPA , (617) 918-1985

Guarding Children's Health, Investing in the Future
Release date: 10/26/2006
(Boston, Mass. - Oct. 26, 2006) - Children may be just a third of the world's population, but they are 100 percent of our future. Each October, EPA celebrates Children's Health Month, which, with the school season in full swing, is a perfect time to focus on the important work that parents, communities and public agencies do to protect our children.

We at EPA have long held protection of our children’s health as a high priority. Their growth and physical activity make them much more exposed to environmental conditions than the average adult. This year’s focus on schools makes good sense when we remember that children spend a great amount of time in schools - more than in any other environment other than their homes.

Around the country, parents, environmental agencies, health care providers and school administrators are all working hard to understand and prevent environmental threats to children at school. In spite of those efforts, many of the nation’s approximately 112,000 public and private school buildings have environmental conditions that could pose substantial risks to the health of children.

Reflecting our concern for protecting kids’ health, EPA has worked on creative programs to address environmental factors that affect children. For example, EPA’s Tools for Schools Kit is designed to assist school officials in preventing and solving indoor air quality problems in school buildings and has been utilized by nearly 22% of schools in the New England Region, with many reporting improvements in attendance, productivity and health. Connecticut leads the country with more than half of its schools implementing the program. More information is available at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/schools/.

Prevention is the best approach to any risk, and with that in mind, EPA designed the Healthy School Environments Assessment Tool (HealthySEAT) to help schools manage their environmental, health and safety concerns. HealthySEAT is intended to identify and prevent environmental, health, and safety problems. It can be (and is being) used at individual schools and can be customized to address specific concerns such as potential exposure to asbestos, lead, school bus emissions, and pesticides. In New England, New Hampshire is one of the first states in the country to customize EPA's HealthySEAT software and make it available to school districts in the state. To date, more than 20 New Hampshire districts have expressed interest in HealthySEAT, with many already having received training. More about this resource is available at http://www.epa.gov/schools/healthyseat/index.html.

EPA has also worked closely with school districts around the country to promote “clean” school buses --- helping schools replace diesel with clean fuel buses, and give school kids cleaner air to breathe on their ride to school. Since 2003, EPA's Clean School Bus USA program has funded retrofit projects in every New England state, totaling nearly $2.5 million. In addition to the six Clean School Bus USA projects currently underway in the region, EPA New England has been working with state and local partners to promote cleaner fuels, diesel retrofits, and anti-idling programs. Today, every New England state has developed a program to limit school bus idling. For more information about this program, visit http://www.epa.gov/cleanschoolbus/.

Finally, education itself is a great avenue for protecting our children’s health, by giving kids the chance to learn about their environment and understand what they can do. One engaging resource is our Recycle City at http://www.epa.gov/recyclecity/ -- a fun on-line game.

Additionally, during the month of October, we observe World Water Monitoring Month. In Pawtucket, Rhode Island, students from the Blackstone Academy school participated in a water monitoring field trip. Elementary school students learned important science and environmental lessons at a similar water monitoring event sponsored by Save the Bay in Providence, Rhode Island. More information about water monitoring can be found at http://www.epa.gov/owow/monitoring/volunteer/monitoringmonth.html.

EPA has a number of other programs and initiatives dedicated to protecting our children. During Children's Health Month, the EPA website will be featuring a number of these programs. Please visit our website, http://www.epa.gov/, to learn more about our efforts to protect children and to share your concerns and ideas about how we can do a better job of protecting our children's health.