Health Department Offers Workshops To School Officials

For Immediate Release: August 19, 2003

Media Contact: Sheri Lynn
Vermont Department of Health

BURLINGTON—Summer is winding down and Vermont’s public schools will soon be bustling with students. As school children move from outdoor to indoor activities in school classrooms, many parents and school personnel are concerned about air quality and chemicals found in schools.

The Vermont Department of Health’s ENVISION program is underway to help school officials address mold, mercury, lead, pesticides, asthma triggers, and other environmental pollutants. The ENVISION program provides workshops, technical assistance and referrals, and resource materials to participating schools.

“Some schools are reacting on a daily basis to complaints from students, staff, and parents about indoor air quality problems. Other schools simply do not have these concerns,” said Sheri Lynn, ENVISION program coordinator at the Vermont Department of Health. “Absenteeism, complaints, decreased productivity, and costly repairs can be linked to exposure to pollutants.”

In 1996, the General Accounting Office surveyed Vermont schools and found that over one quarter of Vermont’s schools reported having poor indoor air and about one third reported inadequate ventilation. The health problems associated with poor indoor air quality include headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, asthma episodes, sinus congestion, coughing and sneezing, skin irritation, dizziness, and nausea.

The ENVISION program was established as a result of Act 125 to address the indoor air quality issues and exposure to chemicals like pesticides.

“A major focus of Act 125 is to minimize students’ exposures to pesticides,” said Susanne Miller, VT Public Interest Research Group and Act 125 Advisory Board member. “According to our survey, although there are some exceptions, most of Vermont’s schools have a long way to go toward reducing risks for pesticide exposure.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers pesticide exposure risk for students to be greater than for adults because students are still growing and developing. The EPA has eliminated the indoor use of certain pesticides that may pose unacceptable risks to students.

“The ENVISION program will assist schools in adopting a school environmental policy and health management plan,” said Cathy Hilgendorf, School Construction Consultant, Department of Education. “The Environmental Health Certificate is awarded to schools as they complete this process. Schools that include pesticide management and exposure in their environmental health policies are one step closer to getting their Environmental Health Certificate.”

Using preventive maintenance and an identification process to resolve complaints, schools can save money and avoid costly repairs to the school facilities. For instance, some school districts outside Vermont have had to spend approximately 13.1 million dollars on mold clean up and repair. When school budgets are tight, putting money towards prevention and prompt repair to moisture problems may be more economical, and money well spent.

“Having a purchasing policy to use non-toxic or least toxic products, reducing pesticide exposure, and participating in an annual environmental health workshop are a few ways that schools can demonstrate progress in addressing indoor air quality,” said Lynn.

The Vermont Department of Health’s ENVISION program, in collaboration with Vermont Interactive Learning, the American Lung Association, and the Department of Education, will offer indoor air quality workshops throughout the year to school personnel, students, and parents.

“The ENVISION program will enable schools to assess, resolve, and prevent indoor air quality issues in their school using a common sense and cost-effective approach,” said Greg James, Manager of Lung Disease and Environmental Health Programs for the American Lung Association of Vermont and ENVISION co-trainer.

The dates for the fall two-day workshops are September 22nd & 23rd and November 17th & 18th from 2:30–4:30 p.m. Schools can contact the Department of Health at 800-439-8550 to register for these workshops or to arrange for a school district wide training.