Many parents think of schools as safe havens for their children. But for millions of children, structural problems at schools, chemical exposures, unsafe play areas, travel to and from school, and even the food that is served can be hazardous. A new book edited and written by leading Emory University School of Medicine physicians and experts entitled "Safe and Healthy School Environments" is the first of its kind to address the school environment using the principles of environmental health science. Its 30 chapters cover all aspects of the school environment, including air quality, asbestos, toxic hazards, food, physical activity, violence, transportation, disaster preparedness, health services, and program management, making it the first book to offer such comprehensive coverage.
The book, published by Oxford University Press, is designed for parents, teachers, school administrators, school board members and architects to use as a reference for safe school environments. "Safe and Healthy School Environments" reviews environmental evidence and points out issues that remain unsolved. The authors also present steps that could be taken to address shortcomings that may be present at a school and to help prioritize them.
Toxicologist Robert J. Geller, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, medical director of the Georgia Poison Control Center, and director of the Emory Southeast Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU), which created the book, wrote four of the chapters and served as one of the editors. The team of editors also includes Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit staff members Howard Frumkin, MD, DrPH. (also professor and former chair of Environmental and Occupational Health at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health and currently Director of the National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the Centers for Disease Control), Leslie Rubin, MD (a developmental pediatrician), and Janice Nodvin (who also serves as Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Disadvantage and Disability).
"This book is written in a very practical manner, and there are many constructive suggestions to help schools improve," says Dr. Geller, who wrote chapters on mold, pest control, chemical exposures, and injury prevention. "It points out the environmental problems troubling schools and what schools can do to improve with limited funding. Overall, this book tries to allow schools to evaluate themselves and create feasible solutions."
Dr. Geller says the PEHSU has received calls over the years from concerned parents about issues involving mold, humidity, athletic fields, classroom structure, and even the management of childhood asthma at schools. At the time the book was conceived, quality reference materials on environmental health issues in schools did not exist. Other new materials that have been developed by others during the past three years include the internet-based resource Healthy SEAT from the United States Environmental Protection Agency Healthy Schools web site, and a school survey tool from the American School Health Association.
"Safe and Healthy School Environments" approaches the safe school settings from a scientific perspective, with many of the chapters written by experts such as pediatricians, architects, child safety experts, and specialists in children's environmental health.
"For every concerned parent who went through the trouble of seeking us out and finding answers, there are other parents, school administrators and teachers who share the same concerns," Dr. Geller says. "By making information like this book available to parents, parents can become good team players and advocates for their childrens' schools. Hopefully, this book will give people the vehicle to work together and improve the schools."
The 462-page book is available online at Oxford University Press, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, and other bookstores.