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The most visible tool we have to protect our schools are doors. They are everywhere – on the outside of our buildings at various external entrances, and all throughout a school building. While doors may have originally served as a way to allow people to come and go, or help cut down on distractions outside the classroom, doors now play a key role in helping to keep our schools safe and secure.

However, as we travel the country, working with school communities on safety strategies, we see this visible and symbolic tool frequently misused. Yes, doors are important in securing our buildings and classrooms, but too often, we see schools use locking devices and add-ons that actually put students and teachers at risk, rather than protecting them. Here are the most critical considerations everyone should be aware of:

  • First, door locks need to be compliant with building codes, fire codes, and the Americans with Disabilities Act to make sure we’re safe from a variety of threats. Many locks we see do not meet these basic safety requirements.
  • Second, we need door locks to be easy to use for everybody, regardless of age, developmental level, ability, or disability. This means having locks at the right height and easy to operate with one smooth motion. To put it simply, if people have to practice or be trained to secure the door, it’s just not simple enough. History has taught us that people trying to evacuate quickly, especially in groups, can panic and quickly become trapped.
  • Third, the door has to be lockable from inside, without students or teachers needing to open the door to lock it. No one should have to open the door to secure it when there is a possible threat on the other side.
  • Lastly – and this is especially difficult for many of us looking for inexpensive, quick door security solutions – it is important to resist the temptation to install door barricade devices in public places, like our schools. While the intention of these additional devices is to give an add a layer of security, they have the potential to enable bullying, harassment, or much worse when added to public spaces.

When secured properly, doors can be an effective barrier against a safety threat outside the school or classroom AND still allow individuals and groups of people to exit safely should their situation change like in a lockdown turned emergency evacuation.

I urge you – for the sake of our students and educators – to become informed about the right way to lock doors. One of Safe and Sound Schools’ partners, the Door Safety and Security Foundation, has been leading the charge on this issue. We are proud to partner with them to make sure schools understand how and why to properly lock school doors.

In fact, with their generous support, we produced a short educational video you can share with your school community. Help us open a conversation about this important issue in school safety today. Check out the Door Security and Safety Foundation, and their “Lock Don’t Block” program by visiting www.lockdontblock.org.  

When parents put their children on a school bus each morning, they are entrusting bus drivers, teachers, classroom aids and administrators with the health and safety of their children. School is supposed to be a secure, happy place for children to learn, grow, make friends and flourish, but when there are toxins in your children’s school supplies, this environment can become dangerous, and in some cases, even life-threatening. Below are some of the worst toxins your children may come in contact with at school, and how you can limit or prevent this exposure.

Benzene

Many children will only agree to go back to school shopping if they are allowed to pick out fun supplies for their classes. For many kids, this can mean glitter pens and scented markers, but parents beware. A carcinogen known as benzene has been found in many brands of dry erase markers, and can harm your children if they even smell the tips of scented magic markers or dry erase markers.

Asbestos

If your children attend a school built before 1970, the walls, floors and ceilings are most likely lined with asbestos-containing insulation. Your children will probably not know they have even come in contact with asbestos, but even trace amounts of secondhand exposure to these fibers can cause mesothelioma. This incurable cancer will eventually manifest in the lining of the lungs, stomach and heart. It typically takes between 20 and 50 years to show symptoms, which are vague, but can include weight loss, chest pain and difficulty breathing.

This poisonous chemical has also been found in many packs of crayons, which makes it especially harmful for children. As the wax from the crayons comes in contact with paper, it disturbs this harmful substance and puts students at risk. If you are concerned about your children being exposed to asbestos from their classrooms or school buildings, attend a PTA or school board meeting to inquire about asbestos management. Schools are legally required to have an asbestos management plan in place and parents are allowed to request access to this plan at any time.

Lead

The most commonly known classroom toxin is lead, which was once used in interior paint, pencils, and mixed into the metal that was used to create desks and chairs. Now, however, lead is being found in different materials that students bring to class. Lead has been discovered in the plastic that comprises both water bottles and lunch boxes, which can potentially make your little one’s food and drinks hazardous.

Lead has been phased out of most metals and even paints, but can still be found in many plastic compounds. To ensure that your children’s lunches do not come into contact with lead, a paper bagged lunch is a safer alternative.

To keep your children protected from toxic chemicals and substances they can come into contact with at school, research the school supplies they will need for classes before you purchase anything, and try to use BPA and additive-free plastics when possible. Your children deserve to be as safe at school as they are in your arms.


Guest Author:
Emily Walsh is the Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance (MCA) where her advocacy work helps people become aware of what toxins they are exposed to and how to make simple changes for a healthier life. Emily’s main focus is spreading the word about asbestos to all vulnerable communities to make sure they are aware of the material’s potential health impacts. You can follow MCA on Facebook or Twitter.

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them

As summer draws to a close, the next few weeks are prime time to take your kids back-to-school shopping. Lunch boxes, binders, and classroom essentials like tissues and cleaning wipes are necessary purchases for parents to make before children start their first day back.

Although we assume that these common school supplies are safe for our children to use, there is still the chance that harmful ingredients can be present. Before you take your child shopping, keep these three ingredients in mind and make the conscious decision to purchase and inquire about healthier products.

1. Phthalates in plastic products

Phthalates are a class of chemicals used to improve the durability of plastic. They are found in a number of consumer goods including food & beverage containers, children’s toys, and even shower curtains. But, they are also widely present in school supplies such as lunch boxes, backpacks, and binders.

Phthalates are a known hormone disruptor, and multiple studies have linked exposure to developmental and reproductive concerns. Research has also suggested a risk of allergic diseases due to DEHP and BBzP phthalate exposure.

When you take your child shopping for supplies, consider purchasing eco-friendly binders made from non-plastic products such as cardboard or fabric. Avoid backpacks with plastic designs or exteriors as these likely contain phthalates. If you’re on the hunt for a new lunch box, choose cloth over hard plastic versions or check out independent reviews such as this one from Romper for phthalate and BPA-free options.

2. VOCs in classroom cleaning supplies

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are a variety of chemicals released as gases from common cleaning products. Air fresheners, chlorine bleach, glass cleaners, and even wet wipes can contain these chemicals that are linked to a number of health issues. Exposure has been known to cause headaches, liver and kidney damage, and allergic skin reactions.

Oftentimes, teachers will ask students to bring in cleaning supplies for the classroom. Before you throw any brand into your cart however, check the label for VOCs. Benzyl alcohol, ammonia, and ethanol are three common ingredients to look out for, but consultCenter for Disease Control’s (CDC) list for others that may be present.

To err on the side of caution, choose eco-friendly cleaning supplies that will protect your children and the environment. If you’re still unsure about a product’s safety, look for buzzwords on the packaging like “harmful if swallowed,” “use gloves,” or “use in a well-ventilated area.” These phrases are usually good indicators that a product contains harmful chemicals like VOCs.

3. Glyphosate in School Groundskeeping Products

Although this ingredient isn’t one that parents will be able to directly impact, it’s still important to know the products that are being used to treat school grounds, sports fields, and playground areas.

Glyphosate is an active ingredient inherbicides, widely used by gardeners, homeowners, and farmers. In recent years however,lawsuits have alleged thatglyphosate is a carcinogen linked to cancers including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In fact, a school groundskeeper’s legal casehas been the first to move forwardafter years of exposure to the chemical during his time as pest manager for a San Francisco school district.

A study published in JAMA found that the prevalence of human exposure to glyphosate has increased by 500% in recent years. However, research is still being conducted to determine the human health effects of this exposure. Concerned parents should inquire with school administration about the products being used on school grounds, especially since the chemical’s safety remains under speculation.

Conclusion

Heading back to school is an exciting time, but don’t let the anticipation of a new academic year cause you to forget about your children’s safety. Take time to read product labels, inquire about the safety of your school’s groundskeeping efforts, and ensure that the items you send with your child into the classroom are safe and healthy for all.


Guest Author Bio:
Morgan Statt is a health & safety investigator who covers a number of issues including product safety and trending health news. With her background in strategic communication, she strives to educate readers on how they can make informed decisions about the products they purchase every day. In her free time, she can be found crafting the perfect Spotify playlist and supporting local businesses who share in her passion for quality food. Follow her on Twitter @morganstatt.

Editor’s Note:
This blog contains views, and positions of the author, and does not represent Safe and Sound Schools. Information provided in this blog is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Safe and Sound Schools accepts no liability for any omissions, errors, or representations. The copyright to this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

School-age children often spend up to a third of their day in school, but while they run, play and learn, hidden toxins and chemicals could be impairing their health and development. Schools are meant to help teach our children about the world around them, but they also have a duty to keep kids safe. In honor of National Poison Prevention Week (March 18–24, 2018), it’s important to keep in mind that poisons come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from environmental toxins to the chemicals used to clean the floors.

Janitorial Supplies

It takes a lot of work to keep a school building clean, but the cleaners and solvents used to keep people healthy can cause a variety of problems as well, ranging from headaches, nausea and dizziness to chronic issues like asthma. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an astounding 1 in 11 U.S. children have asthma, resulting in more than 10 million absent days from school.

Cleaning supplies, including air fresheners, rug cleaners and floor polishes, may contain harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and have been linked to respiratory problems. Recently, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted an evaluation of 21 school cleaning supplies and found that nearly 30 percent of them released at least one asthma-causing toxin into the air. Even common cleaners are capable of causing damage. For example, if cleaners containing ammonia and bleach are mixed they create chloramine gases that cause coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain.

It’s important to encourage the use of green cleaners to prevent germs and keep people healthy. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests that being greener may improve overall student and teacher health, reduce absences, save money and even extend a facility’s lifespan.

The Air Around Us

 Green cleaning practices go a long way toward keeping us safer, but no amount of scrubbing can change the environment that children, teachers and other faculty find themselves in each day. Older schools, particularly those built prior to the mid-1970s, run the risk of containing lead and asbestos, which are both known to cause severe health problems, but are almost entirely avoidable.

Although there are regulations in place for schools that maintain their own water supplies, the vast majority are unregulated and are simply encouraged to perform voluntary testing. Children are estimated to absorb four to five times the lead as adults are, and lead poisoning may result in mental and developmental disabilities, anemia and hypertension.

Asbestos was used in hundreds of building materials throughout the early- and mid-20th century, and can be found in schools across the country. When materials containing asbestos incur wear and tear and, fibers are released into the air and, and once inhaled or ingested, can possibly result in one of several types of cancer called mesothelioma.

The air around a school is also capable of causing respiratory problems for children and teachers. A recent investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity suggested that nearly 8,000 schools currently sit fewer than 500 feet away from a major roadway, exposing children to a wide array of carcinogens capable of causing asthma attacks, weak lung growth, and hamper a child’s ability to learn.

Toxic School Supplies

 We tend not to think about the items our children use in schools as dangerous, but crayons, glues, and even lunch boxes can contain chemicals. For example, some dry-erase markers contain methyl isobutyl ketone, a solvent capable of causing dizziness, nausea and headaches. Newer markers contain a much safer alcohol-based formula.

Other everyday items found in schools, like backpacks and lunch pails, could contain phthalates, which are used to make plastics softer, but have been linked to dangers including early onset puberty, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and even cancer development. For parents interested in avoiding vinyl and PVC products, they can purchase items that are made without phthalates and look for recycling symbols alerting customers of PVC.

Parents concerned about their child’s school and art supplies should look for products with the phrase “conforms to ASTM D 4236” or labels from the Art and Creative Materials Institute. These products meet federal regulations and are labeled with messages about any health hazards they may cause.

What Does The Future Look Like?

 The truth is that no matter how hard we try to control for every chemical and toxin, everyone is still going to be exposed to them in some amount throughout the course of their lives. With that said, there are plenty of things we can do to limit exposure to these toxins.

Green cleaners and safer practices will help reduce cases of asthma, while taking a more conscious approach to school shopping can keep PVC items and phthalates out of the classroom. Our environments can also be kept safer by improving air quality through the use of air-cleaning plants, more efficient air purifying systems and by voluntarily testing water for harmful contaminants.

In many cases, chemical exposure is almost entirely avoidable by simply being more mindful of the products they use and the environment they’re learning in. Taking a few small steps today can ensure our kids have a bright and healthy, future.


Emily Walsh is the Community Outreach Director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance (MCA) where her advocacy work helps people become aware of what toxins they are exposed to and how to make simple changes for a healthier life. Emily’s main focus is spreading the word about asbestos to all vulnerable communities to make sure they are aware of the material’s potential health impacts. You can follow MCA on Facebook or Twitter