You're careful about your home environment. You take the time to choose low toxicity cleaners and are aware of environmental issues that affect health.
Aging buildings and chronic conditions
Even so, your child still gets headaches and stomachaches and maybe even asthma episodes. What gives? Maybe it's not your home -- maybe it's your child's school.
As much as we try to control our children's environment for maximum health, we can't control the school, and kids are there 6-7 hours a day, 180 days a year! The classroom environment -- air quality, temperature, maintenance -- may all impact your child's health.
Headaches, asthma and more
Increasing numbers of studies are examining the relationship between health and the use of household cleaners -- with compounds that may trigger symptoms such as asthma, migraines and eczema. Particularly if your child is sensitive to odors or certain cleaning chemicals, you have the option of choosing cleaners and products free of those odors or compounds -- even if you have to scrub a little harder or longer.
Additionally, relative humidity that affects mold growth and general repair can have an impact (if mice can get into the basement, for example). As a parent, these are things you can -- and likely do -- address so that the home environment is safe, comfortable and appropriate for your family. But then there are the hours your child is in school.
"Schools built the 60s and 70s ... are coming to the end of useful life."
An issue facing school districts around the country is aging infrastructure. Schools built the '60s and '70s, when the school population was booming and energy was cheap, are coming to the end of useful life. Aging pipes, seals on the windows and just the age of the buildings contribute to environments that are increasingly difficult to maintain and clean -- and are less than ideal learning environments. Throw in declining school budgets and you have overworked service and janitorial staff.
If you child starts coming home from school feeling poorly, keep track. Document symptoms and what classes your child had that day. If, for example, your child regularly presents with increased asthma symptoms on language lab days, you may be able to trace some issue to that room.
Addressing the issues
To address classroom environmental issues, begin by contacting teachers and administrative staff (and the school nurse) about your concerns. There may be a simple solution! Perhaps the janitorial staff has or hasn't been doing something specific in that particular classroom, or there has been a change in products or frequency, and once a change is made, things will be better.
For widespread issues, get involved at a district level. Look for allies in other parents, research school environment studies and ask for meeting with district officials about your concerns, including plans for replacement and/or repair of facilities. You may have new ideas the schools hadn't thought of. At the very least you will communicate the importance of a healthy environment for all school children in your community. But careful -- you may just find yourself heading up a grassroots organization to get a new school built in your town.
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