Blog‎ > ‎

Toxic Conditions in United State Schools

posted Apr 25, 2010, 2:07 PM by Nancy Swan   [ updated Apr 25, 2010, 2:13 PM by Thomas Swan ]
As a teacher in Mississippi, I suffered permanent damage to my eyes, respiratory system and nervous system when the Long Beach School Board allowed a contractor to apply a spray-on foam roof during the school day.   A thousand children and personnel were exposed to some of the most toxic chemicals manufactured, including toluene diisocyanate, which causes asthma.  Two dozen children and teachers were also injured.

My injury was not an isolated incident. The EPA reports that 50% of the nation's public and private schools have problems linked to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) that endanger the health of children and personnel, and that "students are at greater risk because of the hours spent in school facilities and because children are especially susceptible to pollutants.”

The CDC reports that asthma, caused and exasperated by environmental pollutants, has increased at an alarming rate, with the highest rates in the child and adolescent population.
According the the The EPA “Scientific evidence has long demonstrated an association between poor IAQ and respiratory health effects including asthma.”

Every month, dozens of schoolchildren and personnel nationwide report exposure to and injuries from air contaminates and toxins inside schools*, including
  • Mold,
  • asbestos,
  • chemical fumes from construction and renovation,
  • high CO2 levels,
  • poor ventilation,
  • natural gas leaks,
  • PCB caulking,
  • pesticides,
  • pollution and fumes from nearby factories and toxic waste landfills, and
  • cleaners, 25% of which contain cancer causing agents
I was dismayed to discover no local, state, nor federal agencies had authority to prevent the storage and use of hazardous chemicals in schools, nor to investigate injuries. In the twenty five years since my injury, little has changed.  Sick Schools 2009, a collaborative report by Healthy Schools Network reveals that there is "no outside public health or environmental agency is responsible for providing effective enforcement, protections or interventions specifically for school children at risk or suffering from the effects of poor air quality, chemical mismanagement and spills, or other hazards.” To right the wrongs, I became a activist and speaker to promote Healthy Schools Network, US EPA Tools for Schools Program, and National Healthy Schools Day.

Change is on the way. After hearing my story, and at my request, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour proclaimed April 26 through May 2, 2010 as “Healthy Schools Week”, in honor of National Healthy Schools Day (NHSD) on April 26, 2010.  NHSD is sponsored by Healthy Schools Network in collaboration with the US EPA and the Council of Educational Facility Planners International, to celebrate and promote healthy and green school environment.

Governor Barbour continued his support for healthy schools by signing the “childhood asthma management and prevention bill into law that includes provisions requiring all public school districts to implement an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program and prohibiting the use of hazardous substances such as cleaning products and pesticides.”

Mississippi will need to be vigilant in upholding the law and so will the public.  With your help, and the work of parents, personnel, and districts statewide, we can all improve the environmental quality of Alabama schools and schools nationwide to ensure that every child and school employee in the state has a healthy school.

Please plan an event to celebrate National Healthy Schools Day on Monday April 26.  Call or contact your school board and superintendents to encourage them to register and participate in events on April 26 to protect the health of our children. <"


Nancy Swan,
Mobile, Alabama
Author of Toxic Justice: A True Story  <>

Toxic Justice Cover 3.jpg