New Haven & Windham Counties
Teachers call for indoor air quality regulations for schools
February 13, 2002:
More than a dozen teachers testified Wednesday at a public hearing before the Education Committee on a bill to regulate indoor air quality in schools.
Educators are asking the state to set standards for school districts to protect the health of students and teachers. This week, the Connecticut Education Association - the state's largest teachers' union - began airing TV ads touting the importance of clean air in schools.
Many of the problems are at old and poorly maintained schools with leaky roofs, contaminated carpets and tiles and poor ventilation systems that create ideal situations for mold to grow and thrive, teachers said.
The bill includes standards for the operation and maintenance of ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems. It also has proposed air quality regulations for new construction and renovation projects.
The legislation also would require school districts that receive grant money for correcting air quality problems to show their workers are trained to maintain indoor air quality.
Twenty-six-year-old Katherine Anderson choked up as she told lawmakers how she went from a healthy, athletic college graduate to a chronically ill and heavily medicated person in the four years she has been teaching in Milford.
"I am in fear every day," Anderson said. "I feel as though my health and the health of my students are at risk."
In Plainfield, a badly leaking roof on the high school building soaked carpets and tiles in 1997 and set off health problems for half the 80-member faculty, math teachers Linda Sweatt and Diane Ethier said.
Sweatt has had problems with her eyes, throat and breathing and says she rarely leaves her classroom, where she keeps the windows constantly open and a fan blowing to circulate fresh air.
"This is not my voice," Sweatt said. "You will not hear my voice until April."
Both say they have seen their students suffer and have difficulty learning because of the unhealthy environment.
"The state has got to be the overall watchdog of what's going on," Ethier said after her testimony.
A similar bill passed in the Senate last year but died in the House.
The bill would allow schools to use construction money to make improvements, said Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, co-chair of the Education Committee.
"It's startling that so many schools in Connecticut can't meet the federal air quality standards," Gaffey said.
This year's version of the bill does not require mandatory testing of all buildings. A system of testing schools may be put in place in the future, Gaffey said, but lawmakers would likely reject such a plan this troubled budget year because of the system's cost.
The Connecticut Education Association and some of the teachers pressed lawmakers Wednesday to include mandatory testing of buildings in the bill.
"How do you know you have a problem without testing?" Plainfield teacher Ethier said. "In the beginning, they tell you it's all in your head. It's not - it's in my lungs."
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