Washington (August 5, 2021) – Today, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), alongside Representatives Andy Levin (MI-09) and Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), introduced legislation to remove toxic substances from school buildings across the country. Toxic substances are particularly prevalent in high-poverty schools, and include lead, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), among other contaminants. A 2016 report from Senator Markey’s office showed that even though PCBs have been banned in the United States since 1979, up to 26,000 schools around the country contain these chemicals in light ballasts, caulk, and paint.
The Get Toxic Substances Out of Schools Act of 2021 would authorize grants under Section 28 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) for monitoring and remediation of hazardous substances, as well as re-authorize and expand Title V of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to provide technical assistance to schools in addressing environmental health issues. The legislation would authorize $52 billion dollars over ten years, a groundbreaking investment to ensure that all children have safe and healthy learning environments. Importantly, this bill also includes high-road labor standards for projects funded by the grant program to protect and create good-paying jobs.
“There is no excuse for the presence of toxic substances at schools, and it is long past time we provided the resources to clean them up,” said Senator Markey, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate, and Nuclear Safety on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Children need clean air to breathe, safe water to drink, and a healthy environment to learn. They need schools free of environmental hazards, and a real chance to thrive. By taking action and investing in clean schools, we can create jobs and healthier communities all at the same time.”
“Every child in this country deserves to attend a school where they can learn and grow in a healthy, safe environment,” said Congressman Levin. “Toxic chemicals like PFAS have no place in our schools, yet in Michigan and around the country students are being exposed to toxic substances every day. The Get Toxic Substances Out of Schools Act is the long-overdue solution to this problem. It provides the funding states need to clean up our schools and instructs the EPA to work closely with states to ensure they have access to the latest data and research on the toxins that are harming our children. I’m excited to partner with my colleague and friend Senator Markey on this crucial effort.”
“We live in the richest country in the world. Every single kid should have a safe and healthy learning environment that facilitates their growth and unlocks their brilliance,” said Congressman Bowman. “It makes absolutely no sense that kids today are expected to try to learn in schools that still contain a number of toxic substances, where just drinking from a water fountain in the hall could make them sick. We need a revolution in how we invest in and prioritize our school infrastructure, and that starts with getting toxins out of schools.”
This legislation is cosponsored by Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
A copy of the bill text can be found HERE, and a one-page summary of the bill can be found HERE.
This legislation is endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, BlueGreen Alliance, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, Environmental Working Group, the Healthy Schools Network, and UndauntedK12.
“Every public school building in American should be a safe and welcoming space. But even before the added threat of COVID-19, far too many students, educators and school staff were in buildings with poor ventilation, mold and contaminants like lead and asbestos – especially in high-poverty neighborhoods,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “Kids can’t learn in that environment, and teachers can’t teach. But the Get Toxic Substances Out of Schools Act would create dedicated federal resources to help make every public school a place where parents feel confident in their children’s wellbeing, educators and support staff feel safe enough to do their jobs, and students can focus on learning and growth.”
“It is shocking to see workers in Haz Mat suits enter a school and worse to see fire trucks arrive after a chemical spill. We strongly support the Get Toxic Substances Out of Schools Act that will help reduce health and safety risks to children by eliminating legacy toxics like PCBs, mercury, and pesticides, or explosive chemicals stashed in K-12 school closets,” said Claire Barnett, Executive Director of the Healthy Schools Network.
“This bill addresses a critical environmental justice issue: toxic schools. Because their bodies are still developing, children are especially vulnerable to toxic chemical exposure,” said Melanie Benesh, Legislative Attorney at the Environmental Working Group. “High poverty schools may be especially contaminated and are often located in environmental justice communities, making those children especially vulnerable. Providing grants for aggressive remediation of these hazards is a sorely-needed public health investment.”
“The fact that in schools across the nation—and particularly in low-income and communities of color—students are regularly exposed to toxic substances that negatively impact their health is inexcusable,” said Jason Walsh, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership of unions and environmental organizations. "The Get Toxic Substances Out of Schools Act will not only protect our students from dangerous substances like PCBs, PFAS, lead, and asbestos, it will create good jobs doing good work in communities across the nation. We applaud Sen. Markey and Representatives Levin and Bowman for introducing this important piece of legislation and whole-heartedly endorse this bill. We urge its swift passage.”