What CASLE Does and Why
With solid information, respect, and persistence as our primary tools we can help provide environmentally healthy products and practices in schools, and healthy school buildings.
“WORKING TOGETHER FOR HEALTHY SCHOOLS”
We love our children more than anything, and they are our country’s greatest resource.Children are uniquely vulnerable to toxins and hazards in their environments. Our schools, their condition and the products and practices used within them, can influence children’s health, well-being and educational outcomes. We love our children more than anything, and they are our country’s greatest resource.
Whether you are a concerned parent or teacher, a professional designing a new school, a principal or a maintenance manager, CASLE offers you over 20 years of experience and resources to help solve problems, and to show how healthy school environments benefit students and staff.
Clean air and a healthy environment are as important to learning as are a good curriculum and good teaching. Health, behavior, and learning ability can all be influenced by school environments.
With increased public interest in the environment, even more improvements are happening at all levels. CASLE’s work toward less-toxic/low-emission cleaning materials and building materials, for example, fits well with the work of other environmentalists.
CASLE works hand in hand with the system, using the best available scientific information coupled with the Precautionary Principle.Canadians for A Safe Learning Environment (CASLE) is a Registered Charity that works to improve the condition of school buildings and the products and practices used in schools, so that school children and staffs have safe and healthy places to spend their days. Our main focus is Indoor Environment Quality, but we exercise our mandate more broadly if needed. CASLE works hand in hand with the system, using the best available scientific information coupled with the Precautionary Principle. With solid information, respect, and persistence as our primary tools, CASLE educates, and assists others to provide healthy school environments. Much has been accomplished, but there is much yet to do.
We have documented school environment quality incidents, partnered with school boards and government departments to create thorough and effective changes, and assisted dozens of groups, school boards, parents and teachers to improve schools across the Province and the continent. Our website provides over 20 years of information and assistance to school board maintenance managers, teachers, parents, the media, government departments, politicians, and unions. CASLE has won several awards for the quality and results of our work.
Selected Accomplishments of CASLE (1992-2017):
- Produced the School Administrator’s Guide to a Healthy School, 2012.
- Coordinated the founding of Healthy Schools Day in Canada – Journée des écoles saines du Canada in April 2009, and coordinates the Day annually for Canada
- Co-authored Guidelines to Accommodate Students and Staff with Environmental Sensitivities, April 2010, with Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital. Go to www.casle.ca
- Speaks annually to teachers in training at the province’s universities
- Facilitated governmental formal identification of asbestos content in all Nova Scotia schools and establishment of new procedures for safe removal of asbestos
- Fostered changes to teaching materials (e.g., less toxic art supplies)
- Reduced the use of toxic building materials in existing schools (e.g., low-emission paint, caulks, waxes) and increased the use of isolation techniques and timing measures for renovations and maintenance of schools (e.g., not painting or tarring roofs when children are in school)
- Facilitated the replacement of cleaning materials containing toxic ingredients (including endocrine disrupters as a main ingredient) with safer alternatives across Nova Scotia.
- Facilitated Scent-free programs and tobacco-free programs in schools and other public buildings
- Facilitated reduced use of pesticides in and around schools and reduced use of CCA pressure-treated wood in playgrounds and new school construction before it was eliminated by industry.
- CASLE’s Healthy Schools Design and Construction (2002) integrated into the Nova Scotia Design Requirements Manual for the construction of all new public buildings, including schools, hospitals, and prisons.
- CASLE’s recommendations adopted for full ventilation systems and 100% fresh air for new public school ventilation systems.
- Partnered with Dalhousie University on a national study funded by Health Canada to identify and understand the factors that facilitate or hinder the use of existing knowledge about EQ issues and the implementation of existing guidelines
- Trainer/reviewer/resource for several NB Lung Association Healthy School Projects, including the Scent-Free video text and Train the Trainer for the Tools for Schools Kit
- Reviewed Health Canada’s draft Tools for Schools Action Kit by invitation
- Received the Canadian Institute of Child Health’s National Award of Excellence (2005)
- Two of CASLE’s Board members received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal
- CASLE’s President, Karen Robinson, received The Cole Award, an EcoAward of the Nova Scotia Environmental Network for Excellence in Environment and Health, 2008.
- Served as a resource to media: CBC television and radio (e.g., Midday, Marketplace, The National), CBC Radio News, the Globe & Mail, the Wall Street Journal, the National Post, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Boston Globe, David Kelly Productions (California), and local media.
- and much more.
Some Work to do:
- Indoor Air Quality problems can develop in any school and at any time. The challenge is to notice them and fix them well and quickly. If a school community is knowledgeable, then conditions can be spotted faster and before harm can occur to students and staff.
- The difference between “Green” schools and “Healthy” schools is slowly closing, but there is more to be done. They are complementary, but they are not the same. It is important to know how and why.
- All schools would benefit from Health Canada’s Tools for Schools IAQ Kit.
- Parents have a positive role to play on school Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committees (JOHSC), and the NS Department of Labour supports parental/community involvement. More schools could take advantage of parent, student, and local expert input.
- (See articles and links on each of these topics on this website)
A Look at Progress
A Look Back: Imagine this school
- The basement is damp, and has old carpets wall to wall.
- Whenever it rains, water leaks in around the old windows, providing a home for mould growth inside the walls.
- The windows themselves have been screwed shut for fear of vandalism.
- The curtains have been up for 25 years but have never been washed.
- When the sun shines it is too hot, and on cold winter days the children wear their coats.
- The radiators are forced air, and have never been cleaned.
- The custodian uses mop oil to remove dust from floors.
- The photocopier and laminator sit next to the secretary’s desk.
- There are chemical deodorizers in the washrooms.
- Chlorine bleach is used daily.
- The cleaning materials contain fragrances and toxic chemicals.
- There are mouldy water stains on many of the ceiling tiles.
- Asbestos-covered pipes have worn, ratty areas.
- The fluorescent lights are flickering and many don’t have covers.
- Many of these lights have the old PCB-bearing ballasts.
- Halls and classrooms are painted when school is in session.
- Roofs are tarred while school is in session.
- It is routine to replace old asbestos floor tiles by moving the class to one side of the room while the workers break up and remove tiles and glue down the new ones. Then they are all moved to the other side to finish the job. (In one such example, two workers went home sick. One child’s health has never been the same.)
- Ground crews bring lawnmowers inside to refill the gas tanks – they don’t want to burn any of the grass!
- When the annual ant problem begins, the pest company sprays the perimeter of the school. Pesticide drifts in through the open windows over the children’s desks.
This list could go on. These were normal conditions CASLE members discovered many of our province’s children had been living with. We in CASLE soon realized we had work to do on many levels if changes were to be significant, and last any longer than our own daily vigilance. Principals, teachers, custodians, board members, maintenance managers, officials of government departments, politicians, and other parents had to have their eyes opened as ours had been.
Much progress has come as the result of several government departments and school boards making Indoor Environment Quality in schools a priority. Some pivotal events were:
- CASLE’s interdepartmental presentation to five provincial government department heads to discuss how school children were slipping through the cracks between the departments’ mandates. The departments and CASLE began coordinated efforts that have had far-reaching effects to this day.
- The summer of 1997 saw the first Provincial Indoor Air Quality Conference on Schools hosted by the department of Education. CASLE made the opening address to “set the tone” for the two days. At this meeting CASLE introduced the US EPA Tools for Schools Kit to the Department of Education and others.
- CASLE’s report on the new Horton School (near Wolfville) from an environmental health viewpoint was widely circulated through the province by the Department of Education, and led to the Department organizing CASLE presentations to the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, the maintenance managers for the seven provincial school boards, the Department of Transportation and Public Works, Labour and Health Inspectors and the construction consortiums that build our new schools.
- CASLE chaired the NS Department of Education’s Healthy Schools Construction Committee to guide the design and construction of new schools (2000). Of note are their Healthy Schools Design and Construction guidelines and the Building Readiness Guidelines for New School Buildings, which were used in the rewrite of the Province’s Design Requirements Manual for all public buildings in NS. Among many other healthy school items, new schools will have no carpeting, no recirculated air, gymnasiums finished and gassed-off early, less toxic materials, new locker design, no gas appliances, and much more.
CASLE continues to provide information and guidance, write articles, and do all we can to assist improvements to school environmental health and safety. Please join these efforts wherever you live. And your donations make it all possible.
CASLE spearheaded years of strong presentations, committee work, and more, and along with officials who were open to the need for change, have fostered strong improvements. Looking back, we’ve come a long way, but some of these conditions and others can still occasionally be found in our province and elsewhere. Because of the potential for real harm to students or staff, it is important that we continue to keep our awareness open to these as examples of many other hazards, including newly recognized risks that appear as time and technologies progress.
A Look at Progress:
These are examples of changes to the operation of schools. The complete list would be very long. CASLE played a role, sometimes major, sometimes minor, in each of these and many more improvements:
- School boards’ maintenance managers are now appropriately skilled professionals such as management engineers. These managers meet regularly with each other and the provincial department to share information and solve problems.
- Instead of building false walls to cover mouldy basements, or new drop-ceilings to cover mouldy tiles, leaks and mould are taken seriously. International guidelines are followed.
- The Province builds its own high quality portable classrooms because previous models were causing illness.
- Carpets have been removed from schools across the province. New schools are built without.
- Pesticides are not to be used in or around schools. Less toxic paints are in use across the province. Some boards have forms signed by three officials to ensure students and staff are not exposed to paint fumes.
- Chlorine bleach is used only with permission from the operations department, and only for dealing with special mould problems.
- Citrus (that lemony smell) cleaners are not used in most boards. Limonene, or d’limonene, has been found by researchers to form aldehydes when combined with naturally occurring ozone.
- Neurotoxin-based bathroom deodorizers are not used.
- Floor waxing is happening after hours. Floor stripping is done on weekends or vacations.
- Most schools have Scent-Smart/ Fragrance-Free programs.
- To reduce student/staff outdoor exposure to fumes, vehicle idling is reduced and also controlled to prevent exhaust from entering schools.
- Boards have policies on Life Threatening Allergies and Anaphylaxis (e.g., serious nut allergy). CASLE served on the Halifax board’s draft committee.
- Smoke-free/Tobacco-free policies are in place. CASLE served on the Halifax committee.
- Schools have photocopier rooms and laminators vented – on request in some boards, proactively in others.
- Computer rooms are configured to reduce electromagnetic field exposure.
- Practices are changing. For example, when roofers began tarring during school hours, one principal evacuated the school. In another school, students and staff were removed far upwind while the principal sent the workers away.
- When students or staff express that something in or about the building is making them feel ill, administrators and school board staff take this seriously and use Indoor Air Quality Protocols to avoid harm and to seek causes.
Nova Scotia became a leader in Healthy Schools operation and construction in North America due to the collaboration between CASLE and the Nova Scotia Department of Education and other government departments such as Health and Labour/Occupational Health and Safety.