Air quality in portable school classrooms READING AND WRITING AND RISK: 2 Million CA Kids Attend School in Portable Classrooms Where Air Quality May Be Harmful to Health by

SAN FRANCISCO -- More than 2 million California children attend school in portable classrooms that may be a significant source of exposure to airborne toxins, including formaldehyde and other cancer-causing chemicals, according to a new report.

The report - Reading, Writing and Risk: Air Pollution Inside California's Portable Classrooms , available online at -- says an estimated 86,500 portable classrooms are in use across the state as a result of class-size reduction mandates. EWG's exhaustive review of scientific literature shows that long-term exposure to airborne chemicals in concentrations that have been measured in California portable classrooms may increase a child's lifetime risk of cancer by two to three times the level deemed acceptable under federal law. Short-term exposure to chemicals or molds commonly found in portables can cause nausea, headaches, diarrhea and other health effects.
The report was released today at the State Capitol in Sacramento and at a school in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley where, earlier this month, a number of students and teachers were made sick after attending class in a portable - the latest in a string of incidents across the state. A toxicologist who examined some of the children from the Saugus Union School District reported that their blood contained elevated levels of formaldehyde and other chemicals often found in manufactured buildings.
Next week, the Assembly is expected to vote on the Healthy Schools Act (AB 1207), a bill by Assembly Majority Leader Kevin Shelley of San Francisco. The bill would direct the state to study air quality in portable classrooms and provide schools with training in how to make sure portables are properly ventilated.
"We should not be sending our children to school in buildings that may make them sick," said Bill Walker, California director of EWG. "Better ventilation will improve the air quality in portable classrooms, but they still emit airborne toxic chemicals that can harm students' and teachers' health. The state should either provide schools with the money they need to build permanent classrooms, or require that the makers of portable classrooms reduce their use of toxic construction materials."
Last year, the state Department of Health Services wrote a report - still unreleased -- that warned of "endemic" air quality problems in portable classrooms. Because the report was completed during the final months of Gov. Pete Wilson's tenure, the state held the report for the incoming administration of Gov. Gray Davis.
According to the EWG report, long-term exposure to formaldehyde or other chemicals at levels measured in the Saugus school district poses two to three times the one-in-one-million increased cancer risk allowed under the U.S. Clean Air Act. Portables are also a favored habitat for molds that can cause nausea, breathing problems, nosebleeds, diarrhea, and in extreme cases, death.
Although formaldehyde and other chemicals are emitted from almost all construction materials, whether in portable or conventional buildings, the report argues that schools are a unique indoor environment. Children are known to be more susceptible to the effects of toxic chemicals, and the tighter construction and ventilation problems of portables may allow the buildup of air contaminants to harmful levels. Schools also typically house four or five times as many occupants per square foot as office buildings.