At High Horizons Magnet School, in Bridgeport, CT, it rains inside on both wet and dry days, outside. This is a typical, damp, sick American school that is set up for mold growth. The difference is that these students are learning, through an EPA program, to identify asthma triggers, as are CT health officials and local doctors who are inspecting the school and this program. We have to ask, what will the federal gov't and the State of CT do about damp, moldy schools like these, once identified (and it had to have been obvious before this program was launched) ? Until there are federal and state laws mandating safe and healthy indoor environments for children and school staff, the asthma and chronic illness statistics will skyrocket, reflecting millions of lost opportunities and destroyed lives. (SMH)
Schools learn how to find asthma triggers: EPA program aims to keep kids healthy
By MariAn Gail Brown
Updated: 05/06/2009 12:24:04 AM EDT
CT Post Online
Epidemiologist/Health Educator, (Pointing) Kenny Foscoe, of the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health, takes teachers and other educators on a"walk through investigation" of a classroom at High Horizons Magnet School on the JFK Campus in Bridgeport. (Phil Noel/Staff photographer)
Epidemiologist/Health Educator, Kenny Foscoe, of the State of Connecticut Department of Public Health, discusses air quality inside schools with educators at High Horizons Magnet School . (Phil Noel/Staff photographer)
BRIDGEPORT-- Inside Room A-201 at High Horizons Magnet School, teacher Richard Munkwitz's students were studying math. With their desks shoved away from the center of the room, they were learning to solve, or at least cope, with a problem outside their textbooks.
It wasn't raining outside. And it hadn't rained for days. But inside Room A-201 and a few other nearby classrooms, this is what happens -- even on some sunny days -- when it rains inside.
So Munkwitz instructed his fourth-graders to move their desks to avoid the indoor drizzle.
The droplets fell from the ceiling just as a group of visitors from the state Department of Public Health, the Yale Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program, school administrators, parents and custodians dropped by.
They came to High Horizons as part of an Environmental Protection Agency program to teach schools how to find and root out asthma triggers in their midst. The theory is that if they can teach schools to identify and remedy mold and other indoor air pollutants, they might keep some youngsters from developing asthma, improve the health of those who suffer from it and lower asthma treatment costs.
"It's because of our roof," High Horizons Principal Melissa Jenkins said. "It's flat, like a lot of old roofs. When it rains, the water soaks into the roof. The material underneath acts like a sponge, and when it can't absorb it anymore, the water seeps into different places in the building," she said.
"What I'll have to do now is relocate this class to the school library. It's the only thing I can do until we get a new roof or this one's fixed."
Since 2000, the EPA-funded Indoor Air Quality Team has inspected 780 Connecticut schools, led hundreds of workshops that the federal agency says resulted in a 21.2 percent drop in asthma outbreaks in Hartford the year after the program started, a 48 percent decrease in respiratory-related illnesses in North Haven, and a more than 50 percent decline in asthma-related absenteeism at one Hamden elementary school, from 484 to 203 missed days in a single year.
According to the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering, up to 70 percent of Connecticut's schools have indoor air quality problems that affect students. It may interfere with their ability to concentrate and even to attend class. The problem is especially acute in Connecticut's five largest cities, Bridgeport, New Haven, Stamford, Hartford and Waterbury, which account for 42.1 percent of asthma hospitalizations among children in Connecticut.
They send more than three times the number of children to the hospital as the rest of the state, 38.7 per 10,000 as compared to 12.7 per 10,000. And the rate of hospitalizations among black and Hispanic children was close to four times higher than their non-Hispanic white peers.
Kenny Foscue, an environmental occupational health assessor, who heads the state Department of Public Health's Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools program, calls the leaky ceiling an "obvious mold threat" that may contribute to asthma among Munkwitz's students. Four of the 20 students in the room raised their hands when asked if they suffer from asthma. They often go to the school nurse's office to take medication. When their asthma attacks worsen, they either miss school or wind up in a hospital.
According to the state Department of Public Health, youngsters also accounted for 7,200 emergency room visits between 2000 and 2004, racking up an average bill of $527 to stabilize their asthma, or a total annual charge of $3.8 million.
"Asthma rates among children, especially kids in urban areas, is high. It's been high for a while," Foscue said, "yet it's one of those illnesses where lifestyle changes, things you do to alter your surroundings, can make a big difference."
All about asthma What is it: Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs. It is marked by repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and nighttime or early morning coughing. During an asthma attack, the airways in the lungs swell so less air gets in and out of the lungs while mucus the body produces clog the airways even more. Prevalence: Bridgeport, New Haven, Stamford, Hartford and Waterbury account for 42.1 percent of all asthma hospitalizations among children in Connecticut. To put the asthma threat in perspective, Connecticut's largest cities send more than three times the number of children to the hospital as does the rest of the state, 38.7 per 10,000 as compared to 12.7 per 10,000. A total of 248,000 adults (9.3 percent of the adult population) and 86,000 children (10.5 percent of all children) are diagnosed with asthma. Money matters: Altogether, Connecticut spends $47.3 million on in-patient hospital treatment and $13.4 million for emergency room visits for asthma.