Scammell Edits New Book on School Environmental Hazards

Posted on: October 22, 2013 Topics: Environmental Health

Madeleine Kangsen Scammell, an assistant professor of environmental health at BUSPH, is co-editor of a new book, “The Toxic Schoolhouse,” that looks at chemical hazards endangering students, teachers and staff in the education systems of the US and Canada.

The book, published by Baywood Publishing Company, Inc. of New York, is a collection of articles, some of which are updated versions of pieces originally published in a special issue of New Solutions: A Journal of Occupational and Environmental Policy.

“We initially wanted to draw attention to the fact that there is no systematic regulation of school-based hazards,” said Scammell. “Current efforts to protect children and workers are highly reliant on an engaged and empowered citizenry, which varies tremendously from school to school and district to district.”

The special issue of New Solutions was conceived as an activity of the BU Superfund Research Program Community Engagement Core, which Scammell directs.

The book opens with an introductory chapter by Claire Barnett, executive director of the national Healthy Schools Network, who poses some far-reaching questions about the school environment. The first section of the book elaborates on some of these questions and addresses problems ranging from failures of coordination and monitoring, to siting of school buildings on contaminated land, to the hazards of exposure to toxic substances, such as lead and PCBs.

The second section captures the voices of activists seeking change, and describes community and union organizing efforts to improve school conditions. The third section covers policy solutions.

In addition to the large numbers of children who spend their days in schools and often are the focus of school-based health studies, the education sector is the second-largest industry in the U.S., according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The authors include academics, union activists, parent organization leaders, and public health professionals. Among them are Scammell; Ema Rodrigues, a BUSPH alumna now at the Harvard School of Public Health; and Jennifer Ames, a recent BUSPH graduate now pursuing her doctorate at University of California at Berkeley. Several of the case studies and examples are focused on Massachusetts.

The book is co-edited by Charles Levenstein, an economist and policy analyst who is professor emeritus in the Department of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts–Lowell and adjunct professor of occupational health at Tufts University School of Medicine. He has served as chair of the Environmental Health and Safety Committee of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Association for several years.

Scammell said the book is intended for audiences including parents, school administrators, health and safety advocates and public health practitioners.

“We hope it will inspire readers, while informing them of useful examples and strategies for protecting the health of school workers and students,” Scammell said. “The US EPA recently solicited proposals for a program focused on school health, acknowledging that student performance is likely correlated with teacher performance and overall health. This book is an explicit recognition of this relationship.”

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Submitted by: Lisa Chedekel