An environmental hazard is a chemical or pollutant in the environment that causes you to become ill or injured. While American’s have become more conscious of hazardous material in the environment as a result of the rise in environmental litigation, plenty of environmental hazards still exist.
Types of Environmental Hazards in Schools
In 1954, the school board in Niagara Falls New York built a school on top of 21,000 tons of toxic waste. The school boards knew about the toxic waste, and choose to build the 99th Street School anyway. This school was part of the Love Canal Disaster, and students began coming down with illnesses including asthma, epilepsy, and even leukemia.
While Love Canal was a long time ago, potential environmental hazards still exist in schools today. Many of these hazards result from improper retrofitting of school buildings, and could potentially give rise to environmental litigation if students develop health problems as a result of exposure to contaminants.
Lead Paint Exposure: Some older buildings, including schools, still have lead paint. Exposure to lead paint can lead to learning disabilities and other problems, especially in children.
Contaminated Water: Schools that have lingering lead paint may also have older lead arsenic pipes. The lead in these pipes can lead to contaminants in the drinking water. While most schools test water periodically, it may be a good idea to send your child with bottled water to avoid lead effects.
Toxic Mold: Like lead paint, toxic mold and mold poisoning is a problem that plagues older buildings. Mold exposure can cause mold symptoms ranging from asthma to a severe lung infection that makes breathing difficult.
Asbestos: Prior to the 1970’s, asbestos was widely used in insulation and building tiles. Removal of asbestos is dangerous and expensive, and as a result there is still asbestos present in many schools. The EPA does not mandate that schools removal all asbestos, but does require schools with asbestos material to have periodic inspections and file regular reports on the results.
Pesticides: Pesticides are used on the lawns and grounds of schools. Children may be more susceptible to injury from exposure to pesticides, since their brains are still developing.
Air Pollution: Tightly sealed schools without proper ventilation can also create situations where children are exposed to airborne hazards. The EPA has provided an Indoor Air Quality Kit for schools designed to help schools test the air quality and ensure it is safe for kids to breathe.
Environmental Justice and Hazards in Schools
Some evidence suggests that economically disadvantaged neighborhoods tend to be more adversely affected by environmental hazards. School buildings in lower income neighborhoods tend to be older, and there may be less money for construction and updating the building. As a result, there may be more environmental contaminants and hazards present.
The EPA recognizes this disproportionate impact, and Environmental Justice Groups are working to help correct the inequalities.
Liability for Environmental Hazards in Schools
Sometimes it can be difficult to know who to file a lawsuit against if your child is exposed to an environmental hazard at school. The school board may be the appropriate party to hold responsible, but in some cases the state or local government is the real responsible party. A qualified environmental law attorney can help give you advice on who should be held accountable for injuries arising from environmental hazards at school.