State Policy as a Public Health Solution

State: Pennsylvania

Green Cleaning
in Schools

Schools should be healthy, productive learning environments for students, teachers, and administrators, but many schools in the U.S. still use conventional cleaning products that pollute the air and have negative impacts on students’ health. Many traditional cleaning products contain substances such as fragrance, phthalates, triclosan and thousands of other chemicals, many of which have not been tested for their safety because of outdated industry standards. Of these substances tested, several common substances, including those listed above, are known carcinogens, hormone disruptors or allergens. These substances should not be permitted in environments where children spend so much of their time. Long term health effects aside, use of these substances in schools has immediate health impacts affecting quality of life and education, such as asthma triggers, allergies, headaches and fatigue. Green cleaning products  are less harmful to public health and the environment, yet are still effective cleaning agents, to combat this public health issue.

Joint State Lead Exposure Risks and Responses in Pennsylvania

This report contains recommendations to ensure the environment children live and play in is safe from lead. Recommendations include the creation of a program to certify residential rental properties as lead-free or lead safe, creation of a statewide registry of lead-free or lead safe rental housing, universal blood level testing for children and inspection and certification of facilities who serve children, including daycares and schools. Additionally, recommendations are included to provide for public education about the dangers of lead plumbing fixtures.

PA PFAS Action Team Initial Report 2019

Through collaboration and strategic planning, Action Team members identified actions their respective agencies accomplished and plan to complete in the future. Certain actions may be hindered or delayed due to known or perceived barriers, which are explained in this report. Also included are the actions each agency has taken to advance the mission of the EO, the actions they plan to take, and their recommendations to overcome known barriers that impede action. 

PFAS Health Policy Brief

Frying pan with non-stick surface and hot oil under water tap flow in sink

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. They are common in non-stick cookware. Pennsylvania can emulate the legislation passed in other states to work towards PFAS-safe communities.

The following measures should be taken:

  • Adopt an MCL reflective of the public health threat that 70 ppt poses according to research (consider those recommended MCLs per PFAS chemical developed by the Michigan PFAS Action Team).
  • Require community water systems to report detections of PFAS.
  • Prohibit the use of foams containing PFAS in fighting fires. Until this in enacted, entities that use firefighting foam should commit to using PFAS-free foam during all training.

 

PlanCon Health Policy Brief

Excavator Heavy Equipment on Construction Site

PlanCon, an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, is a set of forms and procedures used by public school districts to apply for commonwealth reimbursement for construction and reconstruction projects implemented to improve school building conditions. This process originated from the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s (PDE) school building standards and reimbursement system established by Act 24 of 19731. In the last 40 years, school districts across Pennsylvania received approximately $8.1 billion in support of the construction of new facilities or the expansion and renovation of existing facilities. This resource is among other state and federal sources of support for school infrastructure improvement and/or expansion projects. Creating and maintaining healthy schools requires dedicated ample public funding.

Women for a Healthy Environment recommends that the commonwealth:

  • lift the moratorium on new PlanCon applications for reimbursements,
  • allocate funding to both PlanCon projects and the Maintenance Project Grant Program, as a permanent budget line item in the General Fund, and
  • implement the PlanCon Advisory Committee’s recommendation to “Create a set-aside of five percent (5%) of monies appropriated for the new building reimbursement program to be dedicated to school safety projects.

Mold Health Policy Brief

Woman wearing glove, scrubbing mold off of a wall next to a window

Household mold can threaten your health in a variety of ways, and some have neurotoxic, reproductive, and carcinogenic properties. There are currently no statutes or regulations requiring property owners to disclose the presence of mold in rental housing to prospective tenants or buyers.

The commonwealth could protect residents from this hazard by:

  • Requiring landlords to disclose visible mold or mildew in rental properties prior to tenant move-in.
  • Requiring schools to develop indoor air quality management plans that includes prevention and hazard mitigation strategies for mold growth.
  • Creating a state licensing process for mold assessment and remediation professionals, in line with the 2005 PA Mold Task Force’s recommendations to adopt the New York Department of Health Mold Remediation Guidelines and NIEHS “Guidelines for the Protection and Training of Workers Engaged in Maintenance and Remediation Work Associated with Mold.”

Radon Health Policy Brief

Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer after long periods of exposure indoors.

The commonwealth can protect residents from this poisonous gas by making the following changes: 

  • Require all homes to undergo radon testing at the point of sale.
  • Require property owners to disclose any known radon test results to tenants.
  • Require all school buildings and early learning centers to test for radon within 19 months of any new construction or major renovation OR every 5years, whichever comes first.
  • Create an advisory board with medical and public health professionals, certified radon scientists, and other experts to provide guidance to schools and child care facilities on best practices and health-based standards.
  • Require school districts and early learning centers to submit plans for remediation to the PA Department of Environmental Protection if radon levels are found above 4 pCi/L.
  • Require schools and early learning centers to make their testing data and any applicable plans for remediation public within 90 days of receiving results.
  • Establish testing for and mitigation of environmental hazards, including radon, as a baseline requirement for schools applying to the Pennsylvania School Safety and Security Grant Program.

 

Coal Tar Health Policy Brief

Industrial machinery working with asphal industrial laying fresh asphalt on construction site

According to the National Cancer Institute, coal tar is the byproduct of the production of coke, a solid fuel made by heating coal in the absence of air. Coal-tar pitch is a thick black liquid that remains after the distillation of coal tar. Both generally have a smoky or aromatic odor and have been classified as carcinogenic. Coal tar and coal tar pitch are commonly found in pavement sealants. A federal ban on the production of coal tar and coal-tar pitch in any commercial product would be the most health protective and efficient policy solution. States can ban the sale or use of cosmetics and industrial products containing coal tar and coal-tar pitch, including its use in pavement products.

Glyphosate Health Policy Brief

Tractor with high wheels is making fertilizer on young wheat

Glyphosate, a chemical commonly used in pesticides like Round Up spray, is a probable human carcinogen. Pennsylvania should boost compliance with the IPM requirement for schools and early learning centers by providing more extensive education and support for facility directors and groundskeepers on the implementation of alternative practices. States have begun to restrict or ban the use of glyphosate across their communities.