Green Buckeye RN

Newsweek: Heavy Metal High School
October 18, 2010, 2:08 pm
Filed under: News

As evidence mounts of health hazards at many U.S. schools, parents are increasingly frustrated by the difficulty in keeping their kids’ learning environments safe.
Will & Deni McIntyre / Corbis
 The elementary, middle, and high schools in Cle Elum, Wash.—a town on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains with a poverty rate twice the national average—were built across from the trash transfer station. They are also near a washing station once used by coal-mining operations, which left hills of black waste containing arsenic, cadmium, and lead. The elementary school opened without heat, and the boilers that were ultimately installed did not burn cleanly and released exhaust into an intake for the ventilation system located feet away. Construction issues led to water seeping into the building, and mold grew throughout the school.

All of this is according to Thelma Simon, a parent who removed her son, Kyle, from the system in 1995 because of his constant asthma attacks, and former teachers who also claim to have been sickened by the buildings. Other kids and teachers reported symptoms including mouth blisters, rashes, and cysts, and teachers in the high school ultimately filed a lawsuit. But though the school district made some improvements in response to the suit, Simon and teachers who left the school system for health reasons say the underlying problems remain unaddressed, and they continue to hear reports of the schools’ causing illness. (Mark Flatau, who became the district’s superintendent in 2005, says all environmental problems in the high school were resolved well before he arrived and he is unaware of a problem ever existing in the building shared by the lower and middle schools.) Until Kyle graduated from high school in 2008, Simon and her husband drove 64 miles a day to take him to school in a neighboring district.

This should be a one-of-a-kind story. But tales of schools rife with mold and toxins from building materials, as well as schools built on former industrial sites or in the shadow of chemical factories, can be found all across the country.  A 2009 report by the nonprofit advocacy group the Healthy Schools Network estimated that roughly 32 million children nationwide may be at high risk of health problems based “solely on the condition of the school.”

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