Friday, October 7, 2011

EPA Releases Voluntary Guidelines for Selecting Safe School Locations

New tools available for communities making school siting decisions

WASHINGTON –The United States Environmental Protection Agency is pleased to announce new guidelines to assist school districts and communities in selecting environmentally safe and healthy locations for schools. The voluntary school siting guidelines will help communities better protect the health of students and staff from environmental threats when selecting new locations for schools.

More than 1,900 new schools serving approximately 1.2 million children and costing more than $13 billion opened in the 2008-2009 school year (the most recent year for which data are available). Major investments in our children’s schools can be compromised if environmental hazards are not fully understood prior to selecting a school location.

The voluntary guidelines provide tools to help communities ensure that new locations for schools are environmentally safe and beneficial to the students they are intended to serve. EPA strongly recommends identifying and evaluating hazards associated with a location prior to taking title or ownership of that property, or in the case of leased space, prior to executing the lease.

“EPA is offering tools to local officials and community residents to help identify healthy locations for schools that foster productive learning environments,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This voluntary guidance will help address the pressing environmental issues that parents, school boards and local residents often consider when making investments in their local schools. By offering guidance on long-term environmental and health concerns, it will also help local communities plan ahead and reduce the risk of costly changes down the road.”

Children are uniquely at risk from environmental hazards. They eat, drink and breathe more in proportion to their body size than adults. In addition, environmental contaminants may affect children disproportionately because their immune, respiratory and other systems are not fully developed, and their growing organs are more easily harmed. This means they are more at risk for exposure to harmful chemicals found outside where they play and in the environments where they spend most of their time – school and home.

The potential impacts on children’s health and education, as well as the damage to the community when school environmental hazards are later identified, are significant. In some cases, schools have been closed or have had to undergo costly remediation to address issues that could have been evaluated before construction.

The voluntary guidelines give local communities tools to help them consider environmental health issues when identifying potential school locations and recommendations for involving the public at key points in the site selection process. The guidelines are not designed for retroactive application to previous school siting decisions but are designed to inform and improve the school siting decision-making process from this point forward.

EPA developed the voluntary guidelines in consultation with other federal agencies, states, school districts, community organizations, health care professionals, and teachers, as well as environmental justice leaders and children’s health and environmental groups, among others.

The release of these guidelines coincides with the beginning of children’s health month. EPA has scheduled children’s health month activities at various EPA headquarters and regional locations throughout the month of October. Please visit EPA’s children’s health month website at for more information.

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