State Policy as a Public Health Solution

The Pennsylvania Constitution (Article 1, Section 27) states that “people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.” Every two years, a new legislative session begins and offers an opportunity to uphold these constitutional rights by introducing bills that advance the primary prevention of exposure to environmental harms that impact public health. In January 2021, a new session began. 

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WHE serves as the Pennsylvania representative in the Great Lakes Lead Elimination Network (GLLEN), convened by the Ecology Center. GLLEN has identified local, state, and federal priorities to help reach the objective of eliminating lead poisoning. Our state priorities include: 

  • Universal lead testing for all kids aged 1 and 2
  • Shifting the burden of proof to landlords, including documentation of remediation after a child is poisoned and inspections/remediation prior to renting a unit
  • Funding for lead abatement & lead poisoning prevention programs.
  • Align with State or local Lead Commissions and boards.
  • Requiring contractors to have lead-safe certifications to do work on homes built before 1978.

WHE is a proud member of The Lead-Free Promise Project. This coalition of physicians, advocates, and parents is protecting PA kids by ending lead paint poisoning.

The coalition, led by Co-Chairs Dr. Harriett Okatch of Franklin & Marshall College and Colleen McCauley, Health Policy Director for Public Citizens of Children and Youth (PCCY), has two primary goals:

  • Establishing a state fund for homeowners and landlords to remove lead paint-based hazards in their properties, and
  • Passing legislation that will require all children to be screened for lead poisoning.

WHE created the Radon in Schools Workgroup in 2019 to advocate for legislative action to protect children from radon exposure in schools and childcare centers. We advocate for the following PA policy solutions:

  • Require all school buildings test for radon after any new construction or major renovation OR every 5 years, whichever comes first.
  • Create an advisory board with medical and public health professionals, certified radon scientists and other experts to provide guidance to schools on best practices and health-based standards. 
  • Require school districts to submit plans for remediation to the DEP if radon levels are found above 4 pCi/L. 
  • Require schools to make their testing data and any applicable plans for remediation public within 90 days of receiving results.


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 or Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection).
  • Require community water systems to report detections of PFAS.
  • Prohibit the use of foams containing PFAS in fighting fires. Until this is enacted, entities that use firefighting foam should commit to using PFAS-free foam during all training.

PlanCon Funding for Schools

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.

Household Mold

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.

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

Pennsylvania 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 5 years, 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 and Coal-Tar Pitch

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.


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.