Building Healthy Schools From the Ground Up

In  1998  the  Nova  Scotia  Department  of  Education  asked  CASLE  to  make  presentations  to  the companies  that  were  to  build  several  new  schools  that  would  be  leased  back  by  the  school boards (called P3 schools, or private, public partnership schools). The intent was to help create healthy  buildings.  School  principals  and  government  department  representatives  also  attended, and  so  began  years  of  remarkable  advancements  in  building  healthier  schools  in  Nova  Scotia, Canada.

October 1998

Presentation on

Building Healthy Schools From the Ground Up

Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment
287 Lacewood Drive, Unit 103, Suite 178
Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3M 3Y7


Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment (CASLE) is an information-based, registered, non-profit Provincial organization committed to working hand in hand with parents, government, and school boards to improve the condition of school buildings and the products and practices used within, so as to ensure that school children and school staffs have safe and healthy places in which to spend their days.

In the beginning, CASLE’s founders were only working to make our own children’s’ schools safe and accessible to our own environmentally disabled children, but we were surprised and shocked to learn just how unsafe the schools were in general, regarding Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), and that all of the children were at some risk, not only from the more newly recognized environmental health concerns, but also from well established and regulated Environmental Health & Safety concerns, like asbestos, moulds, silica, PCBs, pesticides, and more. We learned there was little knowledge in the school system about children’s Health and Safety, and that of consequence, it was a very low priority.

Although there were/are many individuals, committees, and departments each with partial responsibility for protection of some aspects of children’s health and protection, we found a lack of coordination between them, a lack of knowledge and attention to the particular needs of children as compared to adults sharing the same building spaces, and other factors, were causing significant gaps to allow children’s health and safety to slip through.

Tuberculosis, Epilepsy, Syphilis, and Lyme Disease were all once thought to be of psychological origin. The recognition that asthma is an organic illness came as recently as the 1970s. Knowledge of a bacterial basis for stomach ulcers is still more recent. People suffering from Environmentally Induced Illnesses, Sick Building Syndrome, and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities have also endured accusations that their illness is not of organic origin. Fortunately, as time passes and more is learned, this too is changing.

Why children are generally more vulnerable to toxins than adults:

  1. Larger Body Surface Area in Relation to Weight
  2. Higher Metabolic Rate and Oxygen Consumption and Intake of Air Per Unit of Body Weight
  3. Different Body Composition
  4. Greater Energy and Fluid Requirements Per Unit of Body Weight
  5. Special Dietary Needs
  6. Rapid Growth, During Which Chemicals May Affect Growth Or Become Incorporated Into Tissues
  7. functionally Immature Organs and Body Systems

(World Health Organization Environmental Criteria 59, Geneva, 1986)

“The health risk from air pollution is as much as six times greater for children than for adults.” (U of California researchers at Irvine.) Yet, at present, air quality standards are based upon research predominantly done on healthy adult males in the workplace. It is wise to exceed the standards when children are involved.


The US EPA recognizes that indoor air pollution is often 10 to 100 times as polluted as outdoor air, even when compared to a smoggy Los Angeles day. (I.R. Wilkenfeld)Common Sources of Indoor Pollution:

  • inadequate or contaminated outdoor air
  • inadequate ventilation-chemical off
  • gassing of building materials (paints, varnishes, glues, carpets…)
  • chemical off gassing of supplies and equipment (cleaning products, art supplies, office supplies, scented personal products, photocopiers, laminators…)
  • dust
  • mould
  • fuel and combustion off gassing or leaks
  • vehicle exhaust
  • pesticides
  • sewer leaks
  • radon
  • electromagnetic fields
  • lighting
  • thermal comfort
  • in older buildings, lead pipes, asbestos, PCB s, and more
  • improper renovation Safe Work Practices

In January of 1997 CASLE met with representatives of several government departments to discuss the need for deliberate and coordinated action to pull together those gaps. It was a very successful meeting which has resulted in much positive change. We want to thank those of you who were there for your contributions to these improvements over the past year in particular. We are pleased that much progress has been made at the government level and in some school board districts. Others are lagging behind, and still need encouragement and information.

Three major challenges to progress:

  1. Lack of Knowledge about (a) children’s health and Safety needs and (b) least toxic alternatives,
  2. Financial Priorities
  3. school system politics (complex) But…
    there is a fourth one that needs overcoming on all levels: INERTIA: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”


On this topic CASLE has two goals:

  1. to help protect the healthy occupants of schools from the hazards of poor Indoor Air Quality.
  2. to help make schools more accessible to those suffering from Environmental Illnesses.

Children and staff who suffer from Environmentally Induced Illnesses have an Invisible Disability. They do not have casts or wheelchairs, but they still have difficulty with access to buildings.

We have much personal experience with Environmentally Induced Illness. We know how costly to health that mistakes over IAQ can be.

But, we are lay people, not authorities on building design or engineering, So, please forgive us when your level of knowledge exceeds our own, and look for ideas here that you might not have considered, or might not have seen in quite the same way before.

Examples of problems with some new buildings in Nova Scotia:

* In a recently built school, timing was not seriously considered. (1) The gym floor was finished after students had begun using the school. Also, (2) all the books and supplies had been moved in before the building process was finished.

Off-gassing chemicals from new building materials can be absorbed into porous papers and furniture to gas off later.

(a recent study of carpet emissions, found that the carpet installed before completion of finish work emitted many times more the amount and kinds of chemical pollutants than had been measured originally in the newly installed carpets. The new carpets had been further contaminated by the chemicals from the construction process.)

In the school I just described, many students had to be kept home from school because of nosebleeds, fatigue, asthma, and other health problems directly attributed to their having been put into the school before the new building materials had been thoroughly gassed off.

* In another provincial school the ventilation system was designed to shut down when it was out of balance, and turn back on after the balance was restored. Unfortunately, every time the school doors opened the system would imbalance and it was almost constantly in shut-down mode, so the classrooms were without adequate fresh air.

* A company was hired to build an environmentally safe building. The company had on staff a design engineer who had trained in the US for such projects. Planning included details of less toxic building materials, layout, method, etc. When construction began the design engineer was moved to another project and the one who took over changed some of the technical plans and substituted more toxic building materials and was proud to have brought the project in way under budget and with a good profit for the company.When the building’s occupants reported illness the changes were discovered, and the company was required to tear the site apart and rebuild at the company’s expense.

* We have learned some more lessons from the new Horton School. Much that is good for the environmental health of building occupants has been done there. For example, no carpeting was used. The recent incident over the refinishing of the gym floor underlines the importance of doing the more toxic work long before the building is not not occupied. It also underlined the just how the complexities of building structure and function can complicate attempts to do effective isolation of toxic building or maintenance work.

Safe buildings start with the Calls for Tender and contracts with clearly specified environmental health requirements, and selection of fully qualified designers and contractors, and careful followup.

Cost effectiveness:

We often hear concerns that building safer buildings will be too costly.  CASLE consults with an engineering consultant in Austin Texas who specializes in building environmentally safe schools. Mary Oetzel.

When I told her about today’s presentation and asked what she might like to be sure is heard, she said, “The most important message I could send is this:”Anyone who says it is going to cost more to do it right, is wrong. Healthy schools save in the long run.”

In our package is an article by her: RIGHT FROM THE START: BUILDING A HEALTHY SCHOOL.

Money is often the ruling factor in decisions, but cost effectiveness is a long-term issue. Short term money saving can prove to be more expensive in the long run.

A well planned and well made school will

  1. run efficiently
  2. need fewer repairs
  3. need less general maintenance over time
  4. provide Children and staff with better health.
  5. Save money in the long run. (including avoiding paying two pay cheques for one job when teachers are made sick.)

HEALTH ISSUES and Cost Effectiveness:

Healthy teachers are better teachers and healthy children are better learners.Health, behaviour and learning ability of even normal children can be affected by their school building environment.

According to various sources, between 11 and 25% of school children have asthma and breathing related illnesses. Others have allergies and sensitivities. The quality of the school air affects these children most strongly. However, CASLE’s founders know from personal experience that poor indoor air quality in buildings can cause illness in otherwise healthy individuals, and that once it has begun, much of it is irreversible. The good news is: Environmental Illnesses are preventable.

Enclosed with this paper is an article on effects of IAQ on learning and cognition by M. Coughlan, called Why Johnny Can’t Learn.


Children are especially susceptible to air pollution.

“The health risk from air pollution is as much as six times greater for children than for adults.”
Medical Researchers at the University of California at Irvine

“Exposures to building products, furnishings and materials that have toxic potential, as well as poor ventilation in schools, affect all children to some degree. It is becoming more and more evident that the central nervous system is particularly vulnerable to exposures to many toxicants and that these can affect both learning and behavioral abilities in subtle but serious ways.”
B. McElgunn, Learning Disabilities Association of Canada

This exposure can lead to invisible damage to our children’s health. We are learning what the effects low level, long term exposure are. Often this invisible damage is done slowly over time with no awareness of what harm is being done until a significant problem occurs.

“Cancer now kills more children under the age of fourteen than any other disease.”
The Environmental Working Group, Washington, D.C.

“Eighty to ninety percent of all cancers are caused by environmental rather than genetic factors.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer

“Health symptoms of chemical exposure such as headaches, breathing problems, itchy and watery nose and eyes, intestinal problems, fatigue, and coughing are often misdiagnosed as colds and flu. Behavioral symptoms of chemical exposure such as mood swings, aggressiveness, and hyperactivity are often seen as normal.”
Dr. Gerald Ross, Past President the American Academy of Environmental Medicine

“Chemicals have replaced bacteria and viruses as the main threat to health. The diseases we are beginning to see as the major causes of death in the latter part of this century and into the 21st century are diseases of chemical origin.”
Dr. Dick Irwin, Toxicologist, Texas A&M Universities

We do not know how many children are affected by poor school ventilation and toxic exposure, but as Health Canada’s ISSUES paper on environmental sensitivities states: “Prevention is the most important and simplest aspect of this problem.”

“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”
Sir Winston Churchill

A safe building, with plenty of fresh, clean air is as important to a good education as is a good curriculum and good teaching.

“What is the cost of not doing this? What is the cost of doing this?”
Dr. Gerald H. Ross. Past President, American Academy of Environmental Medicine.

“It is much less expensive to prevent harm and injury than it is to attempt to regain health once it is lost.”

In Schools Where Environmentally Safe Classrooms are in Use, This Is What Is Being Found:

  1. Increased Attendance. If they feel better they go more often.
  2. Increased academic ratings. C’s go up to A’s or B’s.
  3. Decreased allergies and secondary infections.
  4. Decreased need for home teaching.
  5. Decreased need for special classrooms, resource rooms, and resource teachers.
  6. Decreased stress on students, parents, teachers, etc.
  7. Increased well-being for students.
  8. Decreased school expenditures.(Healthy School Handbook, NS National Education Association.)


PREVENTION means Anticipating Problems and Planning for the Future.

As you know, Many future IAQ problems can be avoided at the design and construction stage if we understand well the use of the building, the small-p political factors surrounding operation of schools, and other factors:

The Cutter Corporation’s book Indoor Air Quality in Schools outlines characteristics unique to schools:

Characteristics specific to schools:

  1. Cheap Construction: We are learning from the schools built in the 50 s and 60s that cheap construction is actually expensive in the long run.
  2. Additional Space: Making additions often works against the original building design and disrupts building function.
  3. Energy Conservation Measures: Quick fixes tried in the past to conserve energy have caused such things as reduced ventilation and increased indoor pollution.
  4. Occupant Density: Schools house approximately four times as many occupants per square foot as do office buildings – and please keep in mind children’s vulnerable bodies.
  5. Portable buildings: (CASLE believes the effort to build new schools was driven in part by the evidence that portables are often unhealthy places to be.)
  6. Multiple Systems: Many schools have several different ventilation systems installed at various times and are in various states of disrepair, (When making additions, be sure to integrate systems)
  7. Pollutant Sources: Classroom materials, art and science supplies, industrial arts areas, and gymnasiums all present particular pollutant problems not found in office buildings.
  9. Difficult political climates: The system is cumbersome and complex, and many decisions involve small-p politics. Often there is a lack of adequate in
    formation about IAQ concerns. There are also agendas which may not include safe building s as a priority.

THEM.” (The Cutter Corporation)

Careful planning and building can prevent or minimize the impact of these factors.


A. Calls for Tender should clearly require that only companies skilled in providing Environmentally Healthy Building Design and Construction need apply. All contracts should specify detailed safe-building requirements, and liability for non-compliance.

B. Site Selection:

  1. Environmental assessment to identify on-site contamination that could affect indoor environment quality. (This would include assessment of the water supply for rural schools, and interviewing local people about the historical uses of the land.)
  2. Assessment of external contaminants such as- combustion products from freeways or power plants,- dust generators such as fertilizer or cement plants,- industrial plants that may emit pollutants into the air, and- electromagnetic field producers.
  3. Climate assessment including factors that affect layout and building design such as elevation and prevailing winds.
  4. Radon assessment
  5. Drainage survey to be sure water can be diverted from the building to prevent infiltration and to ensure minimize the ice coverage on playgrounds and walkways during winter months. One Halifax school is on a watershed area and is slowly washing away. There is little grass left and the mud and dirt are tracked into the building daily. In Winter the entire property is dangerous because it is covered with ice.
  6. Adequate space for playgrounds, sports areas, parking, sidewalks, and safe drop off and pick up areas for children who are driven to school.
  7. Plan the building and site to allow for future overcrowding. Overcrowding is unhealthy and hampers learning.

C. Architectural Design considerations:

  1. Building Structure Factors that can affect IAQ, such as the shape and size, orientation, layout, proximity to pollution sources, building materials, types of windows and doors, lighting, ventilation, air intakes and exhaust locations, and susceptibility to pest intrusion.
  2. Moisture prevention, condensation, water vapour intrusion. (Stable relative humidity at a healthy level, and no basement classrooms. Install a strong and long-lasting vapour barrier in the basement floor and walls to stop radon and moisture.
  3. Space allocation
    (a) for maintenance access and ease of maintenance of building systems.
    (b) Fuel storage and furnaces should be isolated from the school proper. Natural Gas: A large American study of 46,000 patients with Environmental Illness found that the single most common cause of onset of illness was Natural Gas. It is recommended that schools, homes, and public buildings not be heated directly with natural gas. It is preferable to use the gas for power generation in central locations.
    (c) Separate rooms for materials and chemical storage kept under negative air pressure and vented to the outdoors.
  4. Building materials:
    (a) Choose the lowest chemical emitting possible to use in order to minimize exposure to VOC’s, and avoid potential health effects.. Evaluate contaminant-emitting and retention potential of furnishings, floor and wall coverings and casework. Evaluate emissions data from manufacturers before approval for use.
    (b) materials that prevent or inhibit microbial growth without exposing occupants to harmful chemicals should be used.
    (c) discourage the use of fleecy or porous materials
    (d) consider the projected life cycles and recycling potential of materials.
    (e) Use materials and equipment that can be easily cleaned with least toxic cleaning supplies.
    (f) Properly store and protect building materials to prevent water damage or other contamination prior to and during installation.

D. Ventilation:

Some air specialists claim that 95% of all IAQ problems are related to ventilation.

We suggest exceeding standards for provision of fresh air due to the occupancy rate of schools and the vulnerability of children.

With additions to existing buildings, the task can be a complicated one. Please consider what you are leaving behind. Have you provided a system that is compatible with the existing situation? Will workers know how to take care of both?

HVAC system design to include the following:

(a) Air intakes away from pollution sources

(b) proper distribution for sufficient fresh air in all occupied areas.

(c) Filters, medium to high efficiency to catch respirable particles in air passing through the HVAC system. Important for providing uncontaminated air especially in areas of higher outdoor pollution such as agricultural areas and industrial areas. Also important for reducing future dirt build up in piping systems, and the possible resulting mould growth.

(d) Convenient access doors for cleaning and maintenance of HVAC system. The track record in schools so far for such maintenance as cleaning piping OR EVEN CHANGING OF FILTERS has been unbelievably poor to date. What can be done at the planning/building stage to help correct this? In one Halifax County school the HVAC was sealed inside a compartment so that for servicing, walls had to be broken down! Easy access encourages proper maintenance.

(e) Adequate heating (cooling) coils

(f) Properly installed insulated drain pans

(g) Properly installed drain traps when system is connected to sewer system.

(h) Ducts easily cleanable inside, not easily damaged, smooth joints and surfaces to discourage dirt buildup and microbial growth, and do not emit materials or gasses that can harm occupants. (inside surfaces of ductwork may need to be washed free of oil using least toxic cleaner.)

(i) Ducts for return air.

(j) Positive building pressure

(k) Adequate exhaust systems: Local Exhaust: To remove point sources of contaminants before they can be dispersed into the indoor air: Exhausting air directly to the outside (and away from intakes) with negative pressure for restrooms, storage rooms, janitors closets, labs, copy rooms, kilns, shower rooms, computer rooms, and other contamination producing areas.

(l) Comfortable and stable humidity and temperature.

(m) Lowest healthy humidity to discourage mould growth

(n) Air diffusers to manage air flow volumes and patterns for occupant comfort

E. Timing for Exposure Control: When building new schools this would mean ensuring adequate time is provided for flushing out, curing, and off-gassing materials before the students and staff begin use of the building. (We understand that in Sweden new schools are off-gassed for 6 months before students enter. Also some US states require off-gassing periods after school renovations and construction.) The need for these flush-out periods can be reduced by planning the more toxic activities to be done as early in the building process as possible, and by choosing least toxic building materials possible in the first place.)

Basic Flush-out/off-gas Procedure: If least toxic materials and methods were used this period can be kept to a minimum. A proper flush-out involves either maximum ventilation over time, or the combination of maximum heat possible (without causing structural harm to the new building materials) combined with maximum ventilation to speed the process. In both cases, the porous furnishings, books and other equipment and materials should not be housed in the building until after the flush-out is complete. (See the enclosed sheet entitled Flush-Out )

Some furnishings may require their own flush-out.

F. Education:

  1. Training of maintenance/custodial staff in proper building function. Will the staff have adequate and ongoing information and training to handle and maintain the system(s) you leave behind? (In a school in Dartmouth, staff wondered for years what a switch in the middle of the hall was for. It turned out to be for a chalk board ventilation system. Each chalkboard had an exhaust vent below the ledge, and it worked to keep the chalk dust down in the room!)
  2. Providing a “User’s Manual” is essential. Include:

(a) log books for recording maintenance and repairs. and
(b) detailed supplier information, and
(c) operation and maintenance instructions, including safety information, for all systems and equipment.

(Adapted for Northern Climates from The Texas Department of Health Voluntary Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for Public Schools, May, 1998, and the US EPA’s Tools for Schools)

Comments from Custodians:

In a meeting with custodians and custodial management we asked what they would say about building new schools:

  • “Build them with cleaning & maintenance in mind. If we spent less time waxing floors we could be cleaning library shelves and lights, even doing odd jobs and painting.
  • Washable lights
  • Cleanable radiators
  • No carpets
  • Plan our storage rooms to have access to the outdoors for deliveries etc.
  • an efficient garbage disposal system
  • Recycle room with a steel sink (Dirty juice & milk containers sit in bins in hallways now a health hazard? They are smelly anyway. Paper collected sits in bins – fire hazard?)
  • Even city schools need specified lunch rooms/cafeterias. Now kids sit & eat at other kids desks that have been sneezed on and heaven knows what else, all day. ‘If this was a greasy spoon the Dept of Health would shut them down!’
  • gym floors that don’t need waxing
  • Hose hook ups and electrical outlets for custodial & maintenance workers use.
  • Old fashioned steel grates at the doors with drains below. Scuppers down the sides of halls that feed into the drains so they can quickly clean the floors with squeegees.
  • How about forming a committee of custodial workers and management to give input into the building design process?


“Source Control is the most effective and economical option for minimizing indoor air pollution. It should be an integral part of the planning and design phase of every new school building.” M. Oetzel. President, Environmental Education and Health Services, Austin, Texas.

(a) Choose the lowest chemical emitting possible to use. Evaluate contaminant-emitting and retention potential of furnishings, floor and wall coverings and casework. Evaluate emissions data from manufacturers before approval for use. Look for products bearing the ECO LOGO.
(Use the CMHC’s book Building Materials for the Environmentally Hypersensitive, and consult Dr. Virginia Salares, of the Research Division of the CMHC, Ottawa.)

(b) Materials that prevent or inhibit microbial growth without exposing occupants to harmful chemicals should be used. Discourage the use of fleecy or porous materials

(c) Use materials and equipment that can be easily cleaned with least toxic cleaning supplies.

(d) Properly store and protect building materials to prevent water damage or other contamination prior to and during installation.
The US EPA’s IAQ Tools For Schools Action Kit outlines control strategies for lowering concentrations of indoor air contaminants including Source Management: (1) Source removal, (2) source substitution, and (3) source encapsulation.

Source Removal: For example, site choice for a new school may include removal of a small amount of contaminated earth or a nearby swamp.

Source substitution: See the CMHC book Building Materials for the Environmentally Hypersensitive, and other publications ie: choosing sealed plywood over particle board, and copper drinking water pipes over plastic pipes. Do not install HVAC or heating pipes with exposed inside insulation.

Source encapsulation: For example, placing storage rooms and furnace rooms in separate or separated buildings or areas.


Least Toxic Building Materials:


  1. Use no particle board or pressed boards. Use sealed Low-emission plywood when necessary.
  2. Avoid materials that have been treated with pesticides, such as some fabrics for curtains and furniture.
  3. Eliminate products that contain formaldehyde as much as possible.
  4. Minimize use of adhesives. Use alternatives.
  5. Use water-based products whenever possible.
  6. Do not use asphalt-based products indoors.
  7. Do not use fibreglass-lined ducts.
  8. Avoid oil-based paints and finishes or provide time for Flush-out. Choose low-VOC acrylic paints, but painting even with the less toxic kinds should not be done with children unprotected from the fumes. Isolation, and flush-out techniques, can put rooms back into use often within a few days.

A local Doctor stated at a board committee meeting that he is “tired of his patients winding up in hospital for two or three days just because someone decided to paint the school.” In Halifax, and some other districts, less toxic paints are in use. It finally appears as if, with the help of aware principals, the painting is happening in isolation in most cases now. This is progress. Spreading this progress uniformly across the Province is still to be done.

  1. See enclosed article by M. Oetzel re: Concrete mixes and sealing.
  2. M. Oetzel suggests ceiling tiles of either mineral fibreboard or vinyl-faced gypsum, and hold-down clips to minimize particulate exposure from up-and-down movement of tiles.
  3. Utilize a flush-out/off-gas period before the new building is occupied. If least toxic materials and methods are used this period can be kept to a minimum.

See the CMHC book Building Materials for the Environmentally Hypersensitive.

NOTE: in your information package
The Article Cleaning Chemicals in Schools outlines the concerns re: health and low level chemical exposures from cleaning and maintenance materials. Many of the same chemicals found in cleaning chemicals plus others are found in building materials.

As IMPORTANT AS WHMIS IS, THERE ARE SHORTFALLS REGARDING PROTECTION OF CHILDREN: WHMIS is designed to protect adult workers, and may not be enough to protect children. See the enclosed article on MSDS shortfalls.


We understand much of the Capital Cost Budget is to go to additions and renovations. Poorly planned renovations have been a major source of harm to children and staff over the years. Please read the enclosed information sheet called School Renovations.
Source control, timing and isolation techniques are important here too.

Refer to the information sheets for points about safe furnishings and playgrounds

Overall, our main points are the importance of:

  1. Avoiding short-sighted economics in school construction which, in the long run, may cost more.
  2. Exceeding all safety standards because we are dealing with children.
  3. The importance of including up-to-date Environmental Health and Safety in all stages of the planning and process – from the call for tender to the owner’s manual.

Please read the enclosed articles titled: The Texas Department of Health Voluntary Indoor Air Quality Guidelines For Schools, and

Right From the Start: Constructing a Healthy School. by M. Oetzel, and
please hire consultants such as Ms. Oetzel to assist in all stages of this major school building project that will affect our Province’s children for generations to come.

Examples of Resources

  1. Indoor Air Quality: Tools for Schools, the US EPA’s Action Kit on indoor air quality in schools
  2. Report to the New York State Board of Regents on the Environmental Quality of Schools, New York State Education Department, Albany, NY, 1994.
  3. The Texas Department of Health Voluntary Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for Public Schools, 1998.
  4. Indoor Air Quality in Schools, Dr. D. Schmidt Etkin, The Cutter Corporation. (and several other publications)
  5. Building Materials for the Environmentally Hypersensitive, the CMHC (and other publications)
  6. The Healthy School Handbook, National Education Association, USA, 1995.
  7. Is This Your Child’s World? Dr. D. Rapp, 1996.

Details That Can Make A Difference:

  1. Choose low-emission products
  2. Use no particle board or pressed boards. Use Low-emission plywood, and seal when necessary.
  3. Roofs: Flat roofs in N.S. weather eventually leak, and the tar used for repairs is toxic. Metal roofs seem to frequently leak and it is apparently harder to find and repair these leaks. Peaked roofs with new high-tech, long-life surfaces may be best.
  4. Flooring: See the enclosed information including Mary Oetzel’s study re: long term cost effectiveness of terrazzo flooring.
  5. No Carpets please.
  6. Lighting: See enclosed information.
  7. Low-e windows: The CMHC researchers are not convinced they are healthy for children. Plants in the windows die from lack of proper light. The concerns are similar for tinted windows.
  8. Please no classrooms without windows. Even skylights are not enough.
  9. furnishings: See enclosed information. Pros and cons of Whiteboards and Chalkboards. Chalk is a contaminant which can aggravate respiratory ailments. The finer particles can float in the breathable airspace for days before settling. Some experts advise use of whiteboards, but these can be easily ruined by improper felt markers. Perhaps chalk boards with ventilation systems could be explored. Boards aren’t generally used as much as they once were. Perhaps one whiteboard and one chalk board per room could be considered. Their cost difference is virtually nil now.
  10. In case of unexpected emergencies the school office should have an HVAC shut off switch.
  11. Construction should be completed in a proper order to avoid contamination of materials, furnishings etc.
  12. Site selection can involve seasonal factors. Wind direction is important factor to consider.
  13. Requirements for an environmentally healthy design and construction must be written in the Calls for Tender.
  14. When building new schools it is essential to plan for possible future overcrowding situations.
  15. Each school should have a “User’s Manual” for the new building, including log books for recording maintenance and repairs, supplier information, operation and maintenance instructions for all systems and equipment, and engineering details of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.
  16. Utilize a flush-out/off-gas period before the new building is occupied. If least toxic materials and methods were used this period can be kept to a minimum.
  17. Playgrounds: See enclosed information. Pressure treated wood is a significant health hazard and should not be on school grounds.
  18. Avoid materials that have been treated with pesticides, such as some fabrics for curtains and furniture. CURTAINS CAN OFF-GAS SIGNIFICANT LEVELS OF VOLATILES. Alternatives are metal blinds.
  19. Eliminate products that contain formaldehyde as much as possible.
  20. Minimize use of adhesives. Use alternatives.
  21. Use water-based products whenever possible.
  22. Do not use asphalt-based products indoors.
  23. Do not use fibreglass-lined ducts.
  24. Install air grilles and radiators that are easy to clean.
  25. See enclosed article by M. Oetzel re: Concrete mixes and sealing.
  26. Exterior grade plywood tends to be safest. Seal all surfaces.
  27. M. Oetzel suggests ceiling tiles of either mineral fibreboard or vinyl-faced gypsum, and hold-down clips to minimize particulate exposure from up-and-down movement of tiles.
  28. Avoid short-sighted economics in school construction which, in the long run, may cost more in terms of rectifying environmental quality inadequacies.
  29. Exceed all safety standards because we are dealing with children.
  30. With increasing numbers of teachers and children suffering from Environmentally Induced Illnesses, there is a need for ECO classrooms for environmentally disabled children and staff. Consider building one in every school.
  31. Build separate furnace rooms. Do not use Natural gas or Propane for appliances or heating. In a recent American study of 47,000 Environmentally Ill patients, natural gas was found to be the most common cause of the illness.
  32. And don’t forget Recycling facilities for paper, bottles, plastic (Reduce fire hazard and pest/microbial hazard of storage on site)
  33. Please read the enclosed article titled: Right From the Start: Constructing a Healthy School. by M. Oetzel, and please hire a consultant such as Ms. Oetzel to assist in all stages of this major school building project that will affect our Province’s children for generations to come.

Because our children spend so much of their lives in schools, “efforts should focus on constructing buildings that are not only healthier than previous buildings, but exceed expectations with regard to indoor air quality.” M. Oetzel. President, Environmental Education and Health Services, Austin, Texas.

Healthy schools help lay the groundwork for a strong and healthy Province. No other institution in the Province serves virtually every citizen nearly every day for upwards of 12 to 13 years. It is so important to provide healthy schools.

Please be sure that the schools you build are well designed, completely finished and off-gassed, and safe in all respects before the doors open to students.

Thank you for today’s opportunity to talk with you. We hope our presentation assists you in the huge but worthy task ahead.

Citizens for A Safe Learning Environment