Los Angeles, CA-Officials from U.S. EPA in Washington DC and San Francisco, and the new Brown Administration were in historic Los Angeles City Hall last Tuesday, February 1st listening to testimony from experts and community members regarding the impact of pollution sources on schools.
The standing room only crowd listened intently as U.S. EPA representatives took notes on speakers comments made about its newly proposed guidance document on school siting. The documents which can be reviewed at wwww.epa.gov/siting are available for comment until February 18th.
This well attended “listening session” sponsored by environmental health and environmental justice advocates Robina Suwol of California Safe Schools and Jane Williams of California Communities Against Toxics is the only scheduled session in the country.
The session featured a panel of federal, state, and local officials and prominent community activists working to make environmental conditions at schools safer. Community leaders, and scientists who are experts in children’s health gave testimony to the panel. Given the current epidemic of childhood asthma, cancer, neurological disorders and other health effects, advocates stated that if there is anytime that more protective measures should be taken, it is now.
California has one of the largest school construction programs in the country, siting over hundreds of new schools in the past decade. Many more are still to be built.
Communities in Los Angeles have a long history advocating for better environmental conditions at schools with a number of very high profile school siting debacles occurring in Los Angeles, notably Belmont High School a decade ago and, more recently, the Carson-Gore Academy.
“Real life examples of school siting decisions gone wrong, by parents and students affected by those decisions, is the best elixir to improve decisions in the future,” stated Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics.
Poor land use decisions by local agencies have schools located next to junkyards, refineries, open shooting ranges, chrome plating facilities, gas stations with leaking underground storage tanks, oil production facilities, airports and busy freeways.
“We hope that the testimony given to the U.S. EPA will help strengthen this proposed school siting document by warning school districts not to locate schools near potentially dangerous facilities or on toxic sites that have not been adequately cleaned up,” said Robina Suwol of California Safe Schools.
Efforts by community members and parents trying to protect school children from pollution at these schools is often frustrating and ineffective due to ill conceived land use decisions. Having strong, protective federal guidelines on school siting will avoid these situations in the future and possibly help local land use agencies engage in more protective actions.
Unfortunately, the current guidelines recommended by U.S. EPA are voluntary.
The purpose of this four hour “listening session” was to educate federal, state, and local officials, through case studies and real life examples, about the importance of strengthening the proposed federal guidance on school siting.
Given the topic, it may come as no surprise that one of the most compelling speakers of the day was a ten year old student named Anya who said, “When kids do something wrong there are consequences. I think grown ups should have consequences too, when they don’t protect kids."