Given the discussion of this past election, we are well aware of the dire need to reinvest in California schools.
In the East Bay, we witnessed many endorsements of specific propositions that highlight the need from an economic perspective. However, before we start the conversation about today's children being the future workforce of California, we must first address the need to safeguard their health.
The mere attainment of education promises better health outcomes; studies indicate that better educated individuals have lower morbidity rates and a longer life expectancy.
Nevertheless, the development of better educated children does not only require updated textbooks and classrooms with a sound infrastructure.
Even with these basic elements, children cannot fully reap the benefits of classroom learning when they are simultaneously being exposed to numerous toxic chemicals that, among many other health conditions, cause and exacerbate asthma.
Asthma is a big problem in California schools: One out of every three California children has asthma. This problem is even bigger in Alameda County, for it has the highest asthma rates in all of the state.
Hospitalization rates for Oakland children are four times higher than those of all California children.
The emergency room visits recorded in the medical records of our asthmatic children are largely because they are exposed to more than 450 toxic chemicals in classrooms, where they spend approximately half of their waking hours.
Last month, it was reported that a UC Berkeley study found that many California day care centers exceed standards for formaldehyde. This toxic chemical is present in classroom furniture, such as desks and chairs. Adding to the levels of classroom toxicity are the chemicals used to clean the furniture.
Conventional cleaning products have been found to contain about 450 toxic chemicals.
In 2008, the Legislature attempted to pass AB 2808, which required schools to use environmentally sensitive cleaning products. This meant that our children would be exposed to 435 fewer toxic chemicals.
Sadly, this bill was not passed. No stakeholder was ready to assume financial responsibility for the enforcement of its requirement.
The death of this bill in the appropriations committee left California residents in the dark regarding the health environment of our schools' classrooms, and that is not OK.
We should not be complacent about the existing irony in the fact that we send our kids to school every day, believing that they are safe, when truly, we are sending them to a place where they are exposed to hundreds of harms that compromise their health and development.
Ten states have already joined the fight to safeguard their children's health by passing state laws that require the use of environmentally sensitive cleaning products in schools. Why are we allowing California to remain exempt?
We should not let the season of political awareness die without taking advantage of it for the sake of our children's health.
We should petition our state government to assume the responsibility of helping us keep our children safe by passing a bill that will provide them with a healthy school environment: An environment that will serve to ensure both our children and the state of California with a bright and fruitful future. Now is the time to act.
Yasmina Mohan is a graduate student at the School of Public Health at University of California Berkeley.