Centers for Disease Control Links School Environment to Academic Achievement


(Beyond Pesticides, October 25, 2007)

In a report it releases every six years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS) and for the first time considered “the extent to which schools have health-promoting physical school environment policies and programs.” The report’s consideration of environmental health issues suggests a breakthrough in public policy at the federal level. In Part II of the report, in its section on pesticides, the authors cite the work of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on School Health, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and Beyond Pesticides’ report, The Schooling of State Pesticide Laws.

In its introduction the report says:

The toll that environmental hazards take on children’s health is not
completely understood, nor has it been quantified. Nonetheless, environmental
exposure to air pollution, lead in paint and drinking water, tobacco smoke,
radon, asbestos, and many pesticides and other chemicals in and around school
environments is known to be hazardous to children’s health.

The report acknowledges and cites the scientific literature on the special vulnerability of children to environmental hazards during developmental stages of life. The report cites the literature on the elevated exposure to chemicals in the environment relative to their body weight, metabolic rate, and relative consumption of food, as well as exposure patterns and elevated breathing rate. “Damage to the lungs during development through exposure to indoor or outdoor air pollution may interfere with proper lung development and may lead to chronic lung disease later in life,” the report says.  The report continues, “Furthermore, the brain is not fully developed until adolescence, and thus, children’s brains are more vulnerable than adults’ brains to such toxins as metals, solvents, insecticides, and certain gases.”

SHPPS found the following:

One third (35.4%) of districts and 51.4% of schools had an indoor air
quality management program; 35.3% of districts had a school bus engine-idling
reduction program; most districts and schools had a policy or plan for how to
use, label, store, dispose of, and reduce the use of hazardous materials;
24.5% of states required districts or schools to follow an integrated pest
management program; and 13.4% of districts had a policy to include green
design when building new school buildings or renovating existing

The report makes important linkages and citations to the scientific literature and clearly states that environmental hazards “that sometimes are found in schools. . .can adversely affect the health, attendance, and academic success of students, as well as the health of teachers and other staff.” For those who advocate the precautionary principle of taking pesticides out of school (replacing chemical-reliant practices with prevention and non-chemical practices), this report clearly supports the notion that what we do know is suggestive of problems that impede the safety of students and their ability to learn and develop to their full potential. These same advocates maintain that what we do not have full information on undermines the very chemical industry and EPA risk assessments on which hazardous pesticide product registrations rely.