California Safe Schools Receives ,000. in Volvo for Life Awards
On March 24th in New York City Times Square, Robina Suwol, Executive Director of California Safe Schools was honored as one of nine finalists in the third Annual Volvo for Life Awards.
Robina Suwol founded the nonprofit organization, California Safe Schools, (www.calisafe.org), in 1998. Robina decided to take action when she watched horrified as her sons were forced to walk through a toxic cloud as they entered school. The school gardener, dressed in a white hazardous material suit, was spraying the pesticide; the actual recipients of the toxic assault were children in light clothing. Robina Suwol’s youngest son, Nicholas, whose previous asthma attacks had begun to lessen, reacted to the toxic chemicals by having a severe asthma attack.
Robina Suwol immediately contacted medical experts, environmentalists, scientists, and experts in the field of safer and more effective pest control methods. She shared the research with stakeholders, and Los Angeles Unified School Board members. The meetings generated a full consensus, resulting in a Working Group to change practice and policy. Participants included parents, physicians, environmentalists, Los Angeles Unified School staff and Management, community members, and the County Health Department. The committee immediately began to draft a new Integrated Pest Management Policy (IPM). IPM provides prevention, monitoring, and control of pests, while drastically reducing or eliminating the School District’s use of dangerous pesticides. This dramatically improves the safety of the schools, since medical researchers have long linked the pesticides in question to cancer, hormonal and neurological disorders, birth defects, acute poisoning, and asthma.
In the place of these suspect pesticides, the district now uses mechanical, biological, or the products least toxic to humans to eliminate pests and weeds. One year after Nicholas suffered the severe asthma attack, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the country, adopted what experts define as the "most stringent pesticide policy in the nation for schools.” The policy is the nation’s first to embrace the "Precautionary Principle" and parents "Right to Know" about chemicals used in, or around, school campuses. The success of the IPM policy has also led to the California State government taking statewide action. The Healthy Schools Act of 2000 provides “right to know” for parents of K-12 students throughout California public schools. It encourages all California school districts to implement IPM policies. Today, the IPM policy that Robina helped bring about serves as a model for the entire nation.
A single parent with two sons, Robina Suwol undertook much of her work as a concerned volunteer. During the weekdays, Robina and her organization, California Safe Schools, works with the School District on environmental safety. During the weekends, she distributes educational materials and addresses health fairs, conferences, and community gatherings on IPM issues. Robina Suwol’s deep sense of family commitment is expansive. Her efforts, and California Safe School’s work, link the love for her children to action not only on behalf of her sons, but also on behalf of human health, our ecosystem, and the well being of all in our community.
For more information on Volvo for Life visit www.volvoforlifeawards.org
California Safe Schools