CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been investigating schools as part of his series on Toxic America, and his findings aren’t good. More schools than ever are making kids and school staff sick. While it’s tough to estimate how many toxic schools are in America, most research shows that at least a third or more of U.S. schools have issues like mold, dust and other indoor air problems serious enough to cause respiratory illnesses like asthma in students and staff. Healthy Schools Network reports that as many as 55 million U.S. children may be attending public and private K-12 schools where poor air quality, hazardous chemicals and other unhealthy conditions can make everyone sick. The U.S. EPA estimates that at least half of all schools in this country have indoor air quality problems caused by toxic chemical and pesticide use, chemical spills, mold infestations, asbestos, radon, lead in paint and drinking water, heavy metals and persistent toxics, such as mercury, CCA and PCBs.

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It’s not just indoor air that’s causing problems in schools either. The EPA is now testing outdoor air quality at schools and the results are shocking. Some EPA tested schools are exposed to enough toxic chemicals via air outside to cause aliments ranging from asthma to cancer. Worst of all, school and state health officials are doing little to improve the situation in schools and most ignore the issue entirely. For example, it took hundreds of sick kids, a possible death and 20 years to encourage officials to shut down just one toxic Bronx school. According to Healthy Child, exposures to chemicals and allergens can trigger serious physical, neurological, and psychological problems. Health problems of toxic schools include asthma and other respiratory problems, eczema, rashes, coughing, headaches, ADD, poor concentration, increased fatigue, chronic ear infections, nausea, stomach pain, depression, aggression and much more.

If you want a good education for your child, it’s in your best interest to make sure your child attends a healthy school. That said, poor school funding, lack of support from schools and other problems can make it frustratingly difficult for a parent to create change in a school. Coming up, some actions you can take to help improve and change school systems at the national and local level.

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