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Healthy School Environments

Impact on Performance and Health

A picture showing children and a teacher outside

There are many reasons why addressing the environmental health of schools is essential for protecting children's health and improving their performance:

  • A child’s developing organ systems are highly sensitive to environmental risk, and children are frequently more heavily exposed to toxic substances in the environment than are adults.
  • Children spend 90% of their time indoors and much of that time is spent in school.
  • Unhealthy school environments can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration and performance, as well as lead to expensive, time-consuming cleanup and remediation activities.
  • Schools in better physical condition report improved academic performance while schools with fewer janitorial personnel and higher maintenance backlogs report poorer academic performance.
  • A study of the costs and benefits of green schools for Washington State estimated a 15% reduction in absenteeism and a 5% increase in test scores.

Read The Importance of Environmental Health in K-12 Schools in EPA's State School Environmental Health Guidelines for more information.

Related Schools Topics

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EPA and Federal Partners

  • A Decade of Children’s Environmental Health Research: Highlights From EPA’s Science to Achieve Results Program (PDF) (40pp, 1.3MB) by EPA highlights research findings on the impact of the environment on children's health as well as ways the research is being used to reduce environmental risks for children.
  • EPA's Health and Environmental Research Online (HERO) Database offers access to scientific references and data from the peer-reviewed literature used by EPA for risk assessments and regulations. Data sets address topics such as air, climate change, health risks, pollutants and contaminants, waste and water.
  • The Health and Achievement section of EPA's Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools explains how indoor air quality affects the health, productivity, performance and comfort of students, teachers and staff.
  • The National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL) helps EPA identify and understand the processes that affect our health and environment and evaluate the risks that pollution poses to humans and ecosystems.
  • EPA/NIEHS Children's Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers (CEHCs) bring together basic, clinical and environmental researchers to understand how environmental factors affect children's health and to translate research into intervention and prevention methods. The network of centers is jointly funded by EPA through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
  • Safe and Healthy School Environments by Frumkin, Geller, Rubin and Nodvin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) provides recommendations to improve the environmental health of schools. Topics addressed include the physical environment, air quality, pest control, cleaning methods, food safety, safe playground and sports field design, crime and violence prevention, and transportation.
  • The National Children's Study is a large nationwide study that is examining the effects of the environment (including factors such as air, water, diet, sound, family dynamics, community and cultural influences, and genetics) on the growth, development and health of children across the United States, following them from before birth until age 21 years. The study is led by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in the National Institutes of Health.
  • The Coordinated Federal Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Asthma Disparities by the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children presents actions to reduce the burden caused by asthma, especially among minority children and children with family incomes below the poverty level.
  • The Case for Coordinated School Health (CSH) on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website explains why CSH is important and offers a model framework as well as numerous tools to help schools, districts and states improve their school health programs.

National Organizations

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