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Healthy School Environments

Frequent Questions about the State School Environmental Health Guidelines

Why did EPA develop School Environmental Health (EH) Guidelines?

You may need a PDF reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA’s About PDF page to learn more.The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007(310pp, 828K), signed into law in December 2007, amended the Toxic Substances Control Act, 15 U.S.C. 2601 et seq., by adding a requirement for EPA, in consultation with relevant federal agencies, to develop voluntary guidelines to help states establish and implement environmental health programs in K-12 schools.

Protecting children's health and advancing environmental justice are critically important goals for EPA, as reflected in EPA's strategic plan.1 A child's developing organ systems are often more sensitive to environmental stressors, and children are frequently more heavily exposed to toxic substances in the environment than adults.2 Children in minority, low-income, and other underserved populations, as well as children with disabilities, might experience higher exposures to multiple environmental contaminants where they live, learn, and play and could be placed at a disproportionate risk for associated health effects.3

What is the difference between the EH Guidelines and the School Siting Guidelines?

The School Siting Guidelines present recommendations for evaluating the environmental and public health risks and benefits of potential school locations that might be considered during the school siting process. The School Siting Guidelines take into account:

  1. The special vulnerabilities of children to hazardous substances or pollution exposure in any case where the potential for contamination at a potential school site exists,
  2. The modes of transportation available to students and staff,
  3. The efficient use of energy, and
  4. The potential use of a school at the site as an emergency shelter.

The Voluntary Guidelines for States: Development and Implementation of a School Environmental Health Program are intended to assist states in establishing and implementing school environmental health programs. These guidelines contain a model K-12 school environmental health program that takes into account, with respect to school facilities:

  • Indoor air quality problems resulting from inadequate ventilation; mold and other allergens; chemicals and pesticides commonly found in schools; contaminants such as radon and diesel exhaust that could enter schools from outside; and specific hazards like elemental mercury, lead paint, and polychlorinated biphenyls;
  • Drinking water issues;
  • Safety hazards related to improperly stored or managed chemicals;
  • Natural day lighting;
  • Acoustics; and
  • Other issues relating to the health, comfort, productivity, and performance of building occupants.

Both guidelines are voluntary and are intended as resources for states, communities, school districts, schools, and school stakeholders in their efforts to improve the environmental health and conditions of school facilities and to protect the health of children and school staff.

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What do the EH Guidelines cover?

These guidelines recommend six steps that states can take to build or enhance a sustainable school environmental health program and provide extensive resources for states to share with schools and school districts to promote healthy learning environments for children and staff. The guidelines:

  • Provide states with guidance for developing and implementing effective policies for school environmental health programs;
  • Summarize the cost savings and health benefits associated with adopting a school environmental health program; and
  • Provide links to numerous resources to help states establish, implement, and sustain comprehensive state environmental health programs for schools.

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Do the EH Guidelines establish benchmarks to assess the progress of schools toward adopting environmental health programs?

No, the guidelines outline general actions that states can take to implement and sustain a state environmental health program for schools. Every state is unique and will encounter different environmental health issues, types and levels of resources, and decision-making structures. Specific benchmarks will vary for each state based on the agencies involved, available resources, and existing policies.

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Why are issues such as near-roadway pollution, traffic flow on school grounds, vapor intrusion, nutrition and food handling, or chemicals in building structures not covered in the EH Guidelines?

The guidelines focus primarily on the indoor environment and address environmental health impacts with respect to school facilities as outlined by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Information on steps that schools and school districts can take to address additional children's health risks can be found on EPA's Healthy School Environments website

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How can the EH Guidelines help schools and school districts that have already adopted EPA's Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for School Program or a Coordinated School Health Strategy?

These guidelines build on the foundation established by well-documented strategies and existing federal programs, such as EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coordinated School Health strategy, and provide examples of best practices from existing state environmental health programs for schools. Schools and school districts already implementing the IAQ Tools for Schools program or a Coordinated School Health strategy can use these guidelines to build on this foundation to expand their current environmental health activities.

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How do the EH Guidelines relate to other federal programs like the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition award?

EPA developed the guidelines in consultation with multiple federal departments and agencies including the Department of Education, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The activities in these guidelines are consistent with the goals outlined in the resource efficiency, healthy school environment, and environmental curriculum pillars of the U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools recognition award.

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EPA stresses life stages as related to environmental health risks. Why don't the EH Guidelines differentiate between exposures to kindergarten students vs. high school students?

Although environmental exposures and health risks can vary among children at different life stages, all children deserve a healthy environment in which to learn and play. By following the recommendations in the guidelines, states can help provide a safe and healthy school environment for all children.

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Do the EH Guidelines apply to preschool facilities, day care centers, and other child care facilities/learning centers?

The guidelines are primarily intended to be used as a resource for states in establishing environmental health programs for schools. The practices recommended in the guidelines can be applied, with appropriate adaptation, to a wide range of school-related institutions, including child care and early learning centers. EPA believes the recommendations in the guidelines represent a set of best practices for a wide range of settings where children spend time.

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Are the EH Guidelines relevant or applicable to schools owned or operated by federal agencies? For example, do the voluntary guidelines have relevance or applicability to schools for children in Indian Country owned or operated by the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs/Bureau of Indian Education or stateside schools owned or operated by the U.S. Department of Defense for children of military personnel?

Yes. The guidelines provide relevant recommendations for managing and operating federally owned or operated schools in an environmentally healthy manner.

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Will EPA offer any funding for states to implement the EH Guidelines?

In 2012, EPA made available to states a limited funding opportunity to support implementation of healthy schools programs as outlined in the guidelines. Although future funding opportunities are uncertain, these guidelines demonstrate how every state can take steps to improve the school environment, and ensure that children and staff have healthy places to learn, work, and play.

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  1. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2010). EPA strategic plan. Retrieved 2012, from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health. (2003). Developmental toxicity: Special considerations based on age and developmental state. In Etzel, R., & S. Balk (Eds.), Pediatric Environmental Health (Second ed., pp. 9–36). Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health.
  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2003). America's Children and the Environment: Measures of Contaminants, Body Burdens, and Illnesses.(176pp, 1.1M),  EPA 240-R-03-001.