4/18/08

A Smart Choice for the Children of Massachusetts

Regarding S-2481: An Act to Promote Safer
Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals.

On behalf of the Massachusetts Parent Teacher
Association (MassPTA) I urge you to do all that you
can to pass S-2481: An Act to Promote Safer
Alternatives to Toxic Chemicals.

Supporting the Safer Alternatives Bill is the safe
choice and the smart choice for Massachusetts. This
is the most important step you as a policy maker can
take for public health this session.

We know enough about the damage caused by toxic
chemicals to act now. We know that synthetic
hormones, pesticides, flame retardants and other
toxic chemicals are in our bodies and even in
newborn baby cord blood.

We know there is a direct connection between these
toxic chemicals in our water, food and air and the
growing rates of asthma, cancer, birth defects,
neurological and immune system disorders and the
crises in health, health care costs, and health
insurance – the budget busters of every family,
business and municipality in the state.

You can help stem the epidemic of illnesses and
disabilities caused by toxic chemicals and the
growing burdens they impose on our families and
communities.

Vote yes to pass S-2481. The wealth of our
communities is the health of our children.

Don't be fooled by the few short-sighted marketers and
manufacturers who think putting short-term profits before
people is good for Massachusetts. Setting a high standard
for community and workplace safety, public health and
corporate responsibility protects our children and the
health of our local economies and our long term interests
in the global marketplace.

Please let me know that I can tell the 19000 members of
the Massachusetts PTA that you are a leader among
legislators because you are committed to public health and
good government for all the residents of Massachusetts.

Ellie Goldberg, M.Ed.
Massachusetts PTA Legislative Chair
Massachusetts State PTA www.masspta.org
ellie.goldberg@gmail.com (H) 617-965-9637

4/7/08

NEWTON'S HIDDEN WEALTH

Ellie Goldberg 617 965-9637, Erika Keller Rogoff, Francoise LaMonica, Andrew Martin, Rohna Shoul, Ilene Spiro, Janet Sterman, Maeve Ward
 
A version of Newton's Hidden Wealth was recorded for broadcast NewTV News:
Video 4min 

The Newton Parks Department's plan to use Trimec Plus on playing fields in Newton this April reveals that Newton's reputation as a "green" city committed to protecting its citizens or safeguarding the environment is undeserved.

Trimec Plus is a weed killer product containing a mixture of the toxic chemicals 2,4-D, Dicamba, and MCPP plus MSMA.* The evidence continues to grow that these chemicals cause serious health and developmental damage to everyone and especially to children.

'It was to avert these dangers that a group of dedicated Green Decade Coalition members proposed that the City adopt an enlightened policy to stop the practice of routinely using a variety of herbicides and insecticides on school playgrounds, public parks and buildings. We were heartened when Mayor Tom Concannon signed an executive order on September 11, 1997. <http://www.ci.newton.ma.us/Exec/ipmpolicy.htm>  (Note 2014. Policy no longer online.)

The policy called for Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a proactive cost-saving approach to preventing and correcting conditions to prevent weeds and bugs. It is not simply a menu of toxic and less toxic "treatments."
If Newton had effectively implemented this policy, all city buildings and grounds would now be in great shape. We could rely on a pro-active coordinated system of operations, preventative maintenance and repair. All city employees, contractors and citizens would be committed to a culture of collaboration and sustainable cost-saving practices that prevent damage and deterioration and that would make it possible to avoid using pesticides.

We would have fixed the underlying site problems on our sports fields such as poor drainage. We would have corrected bad mowing and irrigation practices. Enlightened sports coaches, teams and recreational users and neighbors would gladly adjust to field conditions to avoid the overuse and abuse that dooms to failure any seeding, aerating or fertilizing – no matter how much or little we spend. We would all be proud of our well-maintained fields, schools and firehouses. We would be thriving with energy efficient buildings and "green" playing fields. Newton would truly be a model of Integrated Planning and Management.
However, despite annual proclamations of Alternatives to Pesticides Month, the City has never truly committed to making the policy work. An advisory committee was made up of city department representatives with limited knowledge and inconsistent and unreliable participation. The group has never lived up to the purpose or the promise of being an effective and educated advisory group for any kind of oversight or coordination. Thus Newton has yet to develop the values and scientific expertise necessary to correct its inefficient, wasteful and unsafe practices.

Just as the lack of maintenance has allowed all of the city buildings to deteriorate, the City administration has missed hundreds of opportunities to prevent problems and has wasted millions of dollars. Instead of having playing fields and buildings citizens can be proud of, we have dilapidated schools, deplorable fields, deteriorating firehouses, demoralized employees and disgruntled citizens -- and more pesticides. Thus, ever since 1997, the Parks Department has claimed that "organic fertilizers" fail to stop the weeds and then rationalizes its use of "less expensive" synthetics and pesticides.
The real problem is that the city has yet to adopt ecologically-wise long-range cost-effective practices, has yet to change the culture of city departments working at cross purposes, and has yet to adopt a standard for accountability.

Newton's management culture persists in tolerating poor performance and shoddy work. Contractors and suppliers can exploit Newton's ineffective piecemeal approach to contracts and disjointed decision-making. It is a system vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse and escalating costs. And no lessons are learned -- these same contractors and suppliers seem to have the loyalty of Newton officials and a lock on Newton's contracts no matter how poor the results. Do we see evidence that there will be better design, maintenance and sanitation in our "new" buildings?

I wish the people who think Newton needs an override would imagine how much Newton would have saved if the City did basic maintenance and repair and was truly committed to quality control, systems efficiency, and protecting our buildings from rot. **

Newton's hidden wealth is the citizens who are unsatisfied with the status quo, who understand that Newton could be doing so much better and have not yet lost faith in the potential of the City of Newton. Now is the time to begin realizing that potential and getting value for every dollar.

A good place to start is to cancel the Parks Department's plan to use Trimec Plus and invest in a long-range system that sets a high standard for collaboration and makes quality and accountability a priority in all City departments. We would then be praising our city officials for their fidelity to principles of good government and financial stewardship.

That's where the money is!

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*To learn about the dangers of these chemicals:
  1. See GreenCAP's award winning video "Say No to Pesticides." Contact the Green Decade Coalition 617 965-1995, info@greendecade.org
  2. See the documentary films "Playing it Safe" and "Our Children at Risk" from Grassroots Environmental Education. Contact Ellie Goldberg 617 965-9637, healthykids@rcn.com
  3. See Contaminated Without Consent online at http://www.healthytomorrow.org/
**In December 1995 Ellie Goldberg sent a letter to Anne Larner and the school committee when she became concerned about the lack of knowledgeable professionals, lack of quality control and accountability, and the lack of a comprehensive coordinated system to address the air quality hazards and poor sanitation in Newton's schools.

4/5/08

PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM PESTICIDES


Presented October 16, 1999 at The Women’s Community Cancer Project 10th Anniversary Celebration and Dedication of its mural of women activists who had died of cancer by Be Sargent, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Ellie Goldberg

I began doing research on local pesticide use in Spring 1994 when my daughter came home upset that her teacher had insisted that everyone in her physical education class do a short field run. She had become extremely short of breath and two students had vomited. When I called the teacher to ask about the possibility of chemicals on the field, he assured me that he had been teaching for years and there had never been any chemicals used.

Sadly, it turned out to be a false assurance. Imagine my surprise when I finally learned that the city did contract with a landscaper to do regular blanket sprayings on school fields and public parks of the herbicide PRE-M 60 DG and an herbicide mix of 2, 4-D, MCPP and Dicamba. These are the fields where the soccer leagues, the little league and school children play, where families picnic, dogs run, and babies crawl. This is a field where children cross twice a day to the school from the school bus stop.

From the chemical data sheets I learned that these herbicides are harmful if swallowed or inhaled. They irritate the airways, and cause skin redness and swelling. Vapors irritate the eyes and can cause irreversible eye damage. Signs of exposure are nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, myotonia, muscle weakness and a fall in blood pressure. Many of the ingredients are associated with cancer.

With a small group of friends, I began to try to get information about all the pest control contractors who apply pesticides to the city schools and fields. The information was difficult to obtain because different contractors worked for different city departments and they did not communicate or coordinate with each other. It took many phone calls to the Parks Department and to the School Department over several weeks to obtain just some of the service records and the material safety data sheets on the pesticides used outside and inside the school that year.

Neither school staff nor parents were informed about the pesticide applications and no warning signs were posted. It occurred to me that, like hit and run victims, the kids never knew what hit 'em.

In my own neighborhood there is a nursery school where yellow pesticide warning signs appear regularly outside their ground level classroom windows. The children -- two, three and four years old -– are frequently taken on walks around the block in the late morning, where on any given day in late spring, summer or fall, from five to ten or more lawns are getting their regular application of pesticides. I often wonder what the kids’ total daily exposure is and if they ever run their hands over the grass and put their fingers in their mouths. I wonder if any of these child throw up after lunch or have trouble settling down for a nap. I wonder if they ever get red itchy eyes, hives, rashes, runny noses or wheezes – symptoms that people typically attribute to flu, the common cold, or stress. I wonder about their futures.

I know these exposures are not a deliberate campaign against children but allowed by the widespread ignorance that is abetted by the legal conspiracy of silence about pesticides, their toxic ingredients, both disclosed and undisclosed, and about where and when they are used.

The current MASSPIRG ballot initiative, the Children’s Protection Act, is a step towards a public policy based on an ethic of community and integrity instead of the secrecy and the deception that characterizes the use of pesticides.

The CPA would prohibit the use of most pesticides when children are in school or daycare, require notification and record keeping when pesticides are used, and promote Integrated Pest Management, a better planning and management system that would help schools prevent pest problems.

I agree with EPA Administrator Carol Browner who wrote, “Only when we have protected our children from toxic threats can we be sure that we are providing adequate public health protection for all Americans.” I believe that the Children’s Protection Act is a step toward a better vision of community and pubic accountability. It will protect children’s healthy development and benefit us all. Thank you.

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Ellie Goldberg, MEd, is founder of www.healthy-kids.info, a consulting service promoting health and educational equity for students with asthma and other chronic health conditions. Ellie is also Co-Chair of the Committee for Alternatives to Pesticides of the Green Decade Coalition/Newton.

Heroes 2008

Healthy Schools Heroes Award 2008
Every year, to mark the anniversary of the March 18, 1937 Texas School Explosion, Healthy Kids salutes Healthy Schools Heroes who demonstrate extraordinary responsibility and inspirational leadership to protect children and teachers from chemical hazards in schools.

The Healthy Schools Heroes Award is an annual opportunity to remember the worst school disaster in American history as a case study and cautionary tale. It can inspire us to break the silence about school hazards and to prioritize the values and technical skills we need to live safely with 21st century chemicals and technology. It prompts us to take action to save lives in today's schools where explosives and other hazardous materials in labs, closets and storerooms are routinely ignored.

Healthy Kids Healthy Schools Heroes Award 2008

* Matthew Langenfeld, US EPA, Region 8, School Chemical Cleanout Coordinator
* Allyson Kelley, Rocky Mountain College American Indian Affairs, Project Director
* Brian Spangler, Montana Department of Environmental Quality
* Bonnie Rouse , Montana Department of Environmental Quality
* Bruce Hayes, Wyoming Department of Education

Click here to read more about the 2008 Healthy Schools Heroes Award and other inspiring nominees.

Bring the Lessons of the 1937 Texas School Explosion to Your School. http://journal.rcn.net/sentinellions

Be a hero. Help make chemical safety part of your school's ongoing security audits and safety plan.

1) talk with parents, educators and community leaders about making safety part of school culture,

2) create a universal zero tolerance policy for explosives in schools,

3) promote a sense of shared responsibility and accountability for student, employee and visitor health and safety in all school areas and activities.

See: "Time to Heal," Glenn Cook, American School Board Journal, April 2008, volume 195, no. 04, pages 44-47.

The online title School Hazardous Materials Accidents Are Preventable and link currently assigned to the article, http://www.asbj.com/MainMenuCategory/Archive/2008/April/SchoolHazardousMaterialsAccidentsArePreventable.aspx, will not be the permanent link. The article is scheduled to go to the ASBJ archives about April 21. Check online then for the permanent link.

4/4/08

Letter to Anne Larner December 12, 1995

Letter to Anne Larner, Newton Public Schools School Committee
From Ellie Goldberg, December 12, 1995
Dear Ms. Larner,

I am a parent with two daughters at Newton North. Susie Heyman suggested I write to you to express my concern about the lack of a comprehensive coordinated system to address health and safety issues at Newton North. I enclose two of three reports by inspectors of the Division of Occupational Hygiene.

I have been concerned about hazardous chemicals and poor ventilation at NNHS since February 1994 when I was sickened by fumes in the corridor outside the auto body and graphic arts classrooms. I learned that neither the school nor Newton's health department had the mandated Material Safety Data Sheets that are required where hazardous chemicals (such as solvents) are used. I learned that school staff had not had the required training necessary to protect students from physical and chemical hazards or unsafe conditions in labs or shops. I also learned that there were long-standing ventilation problems although the schools have a contract with a company that apparently responds only to temperature issues.

I joined the NN Health and Safety committee hoping it would be a forum for working on ventilation, health and safety issues, especially to promote the right to know and hazards training that would enable teachers to use and teach safety standards and practices. However, the people on the committee are interested in health education topics (drugs, smoking, AIDS) and have no background in air quality or basic safety. Mr. Marini has delegated to Ed Lareau, head of the Technical Vocation Dept., the burden of dealing with the reports of the Division of Occupational Hygiene but he has said as recently as the December 5 meeting that he had neither the expertise nor the time to deal with the problems. Discussion at committee meetings is hurried, vague and unfocused and there has been no documentation to clarify exactly who has taken responsibility for corrections or what has been accomplished. In fact, I have discovered that there is no one in the school system or among the city's agencies whose priority or responsibility is health and safety.

As an educational consultant who specializes in issues affecting students with chronic health conditions, I am aware of both the health problems caused by poor ventilation and toxic exposures in schools and the personal and institutional liability these practices incur. As a parent, my frustration was heightened when, this fall, my daughter had a reaction (including severe nausea, hives and rashes, eye and nasal irritation, and breathing difficulty) caused by a mix of fumes in the lower gym. In addition to floor sealant fumes there was roof and boiler work being done in the building without ensuring that fumes and vapors were properly vented. (See Reva's essay attached.) Other students were also ill but the nurse has told me she has no knowledge of how to systematically collect or evaluate health complaints to track potential hazardous exposure or ventilation problems in the building.

The enclosed health and safety inspection reports identified many health and safety hazards. And, although most corrections in the March 23 report were promised by June '95, little was done until this fall. Some jobs are still "out to bid." One attempt to correct a situation was inappropriate, i.e., a ceiling fume hood was installed in the graphic arts room where it does not protect students from inhaling solvent fumes.

Mike Castro, the fire dept. safety inspector, has told me that, unlike local businesses, the school has no safety policy or plan, and that obtaining information, such as chemical inventories, from the school has always been difficult. His perception is that school staff view safety rules as a nuisance. Although various "inspections" are done, the school staff does not understand the limited role and jurisdiction of each inspector and the school has a false sense of security that what ever an inspector doesn't catch is okay.

I am concerned that Mr. Marini has repeatedly refused to inform parents who have a right to know about the specific nature and extent of the hazards their children are exposed to, especially unacceptable conditions such as the dust in the carpentry shop (note that wood dust is listed as carcinogenic) or the unventilated photo lab. In contrast, the school has publicized its efforts to remedy the failure of the evacuation system. And, the school paper reported erroneously that there were no safety problems serious enough to shut down any activity. In fact, Mr. Whelan identified several problems as "imminent dangers" and the carpentry finishing area was locked.

Mr. Marini also rejected my suggestion that activities or operations that were not immediately corrected should be stopped until conditions were improved. Although reassured by the DOH inspector that many of the conditions, such as the unventilated shops or labs, were not "immediately life threatening", I would hope that the school would provide students a larger margin of safety. I certainly will ask the school to provide an alternative photography course for my daughter if the ventilation in the photo lab is not corrected (as promised during winter break.)

I am aware of the Inspector General's report on the excess costs and problems of Needham's Pollard School. It points out the risks of not devoting adequate resources to management and oversight. A volunteer committee of school staff and parent volunteers is inadequate to the task of overseeing complex, technical, problematic school operations and does not relieve the school system of responsibility for maintaining proper facilities, properly training staff, and following procedures that protect students from the kind of hazards identified in the reports. There is a need for management safeguards and a full-time professional manager to organize and coordinate complex multifaceted, multidisciplinary aspects of operations and facility management. In Needham, the lack of effective accountability, procedural lapses and poor record keeping not only made Needham vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse but also led to significant health problems in students and staff.

Newton North needs the direction and oversight of someone with the knowledge and authority to raise standards and ensure proper procedures. I hope that by calling your attention to my concerns that a more efficient and appropriate system can be developed.

I look forward to your response. Best regards,

Ellie Goldberg, M.Ed.
Enclosures: DOH reports, Reva's school council essay, my Dec. 9 memo to Mr. Marini/Ed Lareau
(These reports are not attached to this blog but are available to interested readers. Call me 617 965-9637)

2006 Note: Safety standards still lacking in Newton

SOUTH LAB A STUDY IN OVERCROWDING, by Daniel E. Black/ Staff Writer

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

When class started two weeks ago, Mike Debuze, a sophomore at Newton South High School, was sitting on the floor. One of Debuze’s lab partners, Han Park, at least had a chair, but not a very good view of the board.

"It’s just really crowded," said Park of his 30-person Honors Chemistry class at South.

The recently-renovated classroom, part of the $60 million project at South, was built to accommodate 24 students at 12 lab stations. But it’s being used to hold 30 students, and teachers and students agree it’s pushed to the limit.

The bloated class size causes two main problems, according to teacher Alan Crosby. The extra chairs (if there are enough) in the lecture part of the room impede the flow of traffic during lab. Also, the lab stations are only designed to handle two students per bench.

One measure he’s taken to reduce collisions in the classroom with potentially dangerous chemicals is that Crosby now has students accumulate paper towels on their lab benches rather than walk to the trash barrel.

"We try to minimize travel," Crosby said, a proud stickler for the safety of his lab.

Even the students noticed that their bright, new classroom is flawed.

"You’d think when they say ’brand new classroom’ it’d be nice," said Debuze.

For the teacher, Crosby’s staging area to set up labs consists of a small sink with a three-foot countertop area and a rolling cart.

"It’s a running joke," said Crosby of his preparation workspace.

But, for Crosby and his students, the crowded classroom is no joke. Debuze, Park and Andrew Maguire - lab partners in this overcrowded chemistry class - were eager to discuss their angst over the class’ physical constraints.

"[With three people], one person just ends up watching," Park said. "We just rotate around."

Despite the class’s numbers, the students are well aware of the dangers.

"Mr. Crosby tells us the nice repercussions," Maguire said of the day’s titration lab with sodium hydroxide.

But for Crosby, safety is the primary concern, especially in this large class.

"He can’t see us all the time," Park said.

Ideally, Crosby said he should be able to see each pair’s working space, however, because of the overcrowding, he can’t.

"I want to push the envelope [academically]," Crosby said. "But, there are risk factors that have to be evaluated."

Crosby teaches four classes at South, two with 30 students each, and two with 24. The classes with 24 students are "much, much more comfortable," he said.

He focuses on teaching the students to control their exuberance in the lab area and be mindful of the chemicals they’re working with.

"The kids need to have a good respect for chemistry, not be afraid, but respectful," said Crosby, a long-time lab instructor at Boston University who joined South this past fall.

While Debuze, Park and Maguire complained of crowding in the lab, on the other end of the room squeezed into a corner, four sophomores made up a lab "pair."

"We need more space," said Stephanie Lee.

Lab partner, Yulia Podolny agreed that because of the crowding, "during labs it’s really hard."

She said that it’s also harder to get individual attention.

Other parts of the room have been missing other key elements. For more than a month in the fall, the room’s only fire extinguisher was taken for inspection, preventing Crosby from conducting certain labs.

The room is still without all the necessary items.

"There are certain things we won’t do without a fume hood," said Chuck Hurwitz, South’s science department chair.

Because of the multiple renovations to the science rooms at South over the past 10 years, there are five different classroom layouts. For Hurwitz, matching the class to the space is a matching game, one where the pieces don’t always fit smoothly.

Hurwitz said he’s concerned that the planned new high school for Newton North will face similar problems.

"It’s not just about square-footage," Hurwitz said. "My warning for North is ... [I] recommend against homogeneity. You have to designate for specific classes."

One such designation, for example, is that chemistry labs require more sinks than a physical science lab. Similarly, different subjects demand more counter space or storage room.

Of the recent renovations at South, Hurwitz said that the teachers who got involved were often misunderstood by the architects.

"The architect is much more in control of [the details] than you think," Hurwitz said. "They designed a homogenous room that’s good for the average class, but not good for anyone."

Since the 1960s, when the school had nine science rooms, South has steadily increased its total to 16 science rooms and nearly 20 faculty, some part-time. But, the numbers of students are growing fast, too.

Out of 1,700 students, approximately 1,560 are enrolled in a science class. The recent addition of popular courses such as astronomy and marine biology have particularly attracted seniors, who otherwise would have opted out of a science class.

Regardless of the way the classrooms are shaped, and what classes are being taught in the labs, the easiest way to fix the problem, and ensure safety, is to reduce the class size, said Hurwitz.

"We need classes back down to 24," Hurwitz said.

Hurwitz taught three classes with over 30 students in each, last year and said that maintaining safety becomes a real worry.

"Everybody understands the dangers of power tools," Hurwitz said of the similarities between science classes and woodworking. "It’s not easy getting done what you want to do."

Daniel E. Black can be reached at dblack@cnc.com or at 781-433-8216.

* * * * * *

For information on safety standards see: Safe Science Series: For Safety Sake: One Class Size Does Not Fit All! (The Navigator, September, 1999) (printer friendly PDF) http://nsela.org/publications/safescience/ss-article7.pdf

Dr. Ken Roy is the Director of Science & Safety for Glastonbury Public Schools in Glastonbury, CT, an authorized OSHA instructor, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Laboratory Safety Workshop. He is the author of this comprehensive and continuing series dedicated to the improvement of safety in the science classroom.