Can School Be Bad for Your Child’s Health?

Can School Be Bad for Your Child’s Health?

Nine year-old Matthew missed a whopping 53 days of school during his third grade school year. According to CNN, where his story was featured,

“He was lethargic and plagued with a persistent wet cough, respiratory infections and painful headaches. As the school year wound down, Matthew's health worsened. He was out for two weeks in the spring with pneumonia and then developed a sinus infection so severe he needed to spend the night at the hospital, where he received intravenous antibiotics and breathing treatments.”

Fortunately, over summer break his health improved and his days of endless illnesses appeared to be behind him. Until he started school again. Sadly, in the fall another respiratory infection took hold of his little lungs and, at that point, the proverbial light bulb turned on and Matthew’s mom realized it was the school building making him sick.

The acute health effects Matthew experienced from his elementary school aren't a common occurrence, but are our schools causing more subtle health impacts?

Nearly 70 million children in the United States spend up to 10 hours a day in our nation’s schools – they are literally our children’s second homes. Yet, few meet the standards most of us have for our homes (imagine if you had to live at your child’s school!). In a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers assessing buildings across the country, public schools were given a D grade on their overall condition. Not good at all.

What effect do these aging establishments have on our children’s health and performance at school? Research is underway to better understand the impacts, but preliminary results are already revealing some startling facts.

  • Air Quality Sciences, Inc. measured VOC levels in more than 200 U.S. schools and found 345 different VOCs in the indoor air – many of which are linked to cancer.
  • Studies have estimated that a third or more of U.S. schools have mold, dust, and other indoor air problems serious enough to provoke respiratory issues like asthma in students and teachers.
  • Doctors have found that 65 percent of asthma cases among grade school students could be prevented through strategies to improve indoor air. When toxic cleaners, paint, flooring, furniture, and pest management products are eliminated, students and staff report less eye, nose and throat irritation, and asthma-related incidents decline.

Thankfully, just as there’s increasing awareness about how our homes and the products we use impact our health, there’s also growing attention on the need to improve school buildings through healthy, green design and operations. And the results of these changes not only positively impact child and staff health and performance, they also save money AND reduce environmental impacts. Win, win, win!! Here are some of the initial findings:

  • After it’s first year of implementing a green cleaning program, a public school district in Syracuse, New York found attendance increased by 11.7 percent and generated more than $2.5 million in additional state funding to the school district. Even better than the extra bucks, increased attendance means kids aren't getting sick or having asthma attacks as often, and their improved attendance means higher grades.
  • In one study, researchers found that task speed increased significantly in students (10–12 years old) when classrooms had more fresh air.
  • According to Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits, green schools use 33 percent less energy and 32 percent less water.
  • On average, green schools save $100,000 per year on operating costs — enough to hire at least one new teacher, buy 200 new computers, or purchase 5,000 textbooks.
  • As a rough estimate, a green school could lead to the following annual emission reductions per school:

    • 1,200 pounds of nitrogen oxides (NOx) – a main component of smog.
    • 1,300 pounds of sulfur dioxide (SO2) – a main cause of acid rain.
    • 585,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) – the main greenhouse gas.
    • 150 pounds of coarse particulate matter (PM10) – a main cause of respiratory illness and an important contributor to smog.

Pretty impressive, right? Click through to LEARN MORE to help your child’s school be cleaner and less toxic.

And if you have experience working with your child’s school, please share your experiences and favorite resources in the comments!

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.