Healthy Schools

State Legislative Fact sheet

House Bill HB 2181: An Act Relative to Healthy Schools and Public Buildings

"My agency moved to another building 10 months ago that has a leaky roof and poor ventilation. Since the move I have had chronic sinus infections and intense fatigue that goes away on the weekends and returns with a few days of work. Even our Agency manager cannot get the landlord to make repairs. I am afraid I will lose my job if I use up all of my sick time." - A state worker

"My daughter has asthma which is usually under control - but the dusty, moldy and damp conditions in her elementary school have caused her to miss a lot of school and a lot of learning. I don't think my daughter should have to suffer because of neglected school building conditions in a poor neighborhood." - A public school parent

Background: There are almost one million children in Massachusetts public schools every day. In addition, there are over four hundred thousand public employees working in schools and other public buildings. There are currently no effective laws protecting them from unhealthy and unsafe conditions. There are no programs currently in place to prevent any unhealthy or unsafe conditions.

According to a 2004 report from the National Academy of Sciences, there is an association between damp indoor environments and upper respiratory tract symptoms, such as cough, wheeze, and asthma symptoms in sensitized asthmatic persons. The report also concluded that the presence of mold is associated with the same symptoms, as well as hypersensitivity pneumonitis in susceptible persons.

Asthma is one of the most common diseases in the United States and one of the leading causes of school absences. Massachusetts ranks as one of the top states in adult asthma rate, well over the national average. Among adult asthma, nationwide, more than 15% of asthma is associated with work. In Massachusetts, the second leading industry among work-related asthma cases is education. Too often we hear of unhealthy conditions and "sick buildings" that could have been prevented. Once someone gets sick it's too late, and it is much too difficult for employees or users of public buildings (especially including students and their parents) to report or follow up on health concerns.

Lead sponsor: Rep. Peter Koutoujian

What this bill does: This bill focuses on prevention of unhealthy conditions in schools and public buildings and gives the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Division of Occupational Safety (DOS) enforcement authority. This bill will:

  • Require public building owners to establish preventative maintenance programs and complaint procedures, visually inspect all public buildings on an annual basis, conduct comprehensive building condition surveys every five years, and keep records of complaints about building conditions and building-related illnesses
  • Require the DPH and the DOS to establish standards concerning conditions that affect indoor environments in public buildings
  • Require owners of public buildings to develop work plans before starting renovation projects to minimize the impact of the renovation on occupied parts of the building
  • Give the DPH and the DOS authority to investigate complaints of non-compliance with and to enforce the requirements of the law and associated regulations

How you can support the bill:

  • Call or email your state rep. and state senator and ask him/her to support the bill.
    Find out the name of your state rep.
  • Become a MassCOSH member and contribute to our efforts to advocate for the passage of this bill.

Endorsing organizations: Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 93; Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH); Massachusetts Federation of Teachers (MFT); Massachusetts Nurses Association; Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists (MOSES); Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA); National Association of Government Employees (NAGE); Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 6; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Locals 509 and 888.

For more information or questions, please contact Tolle Graham at MassCOSH 617-825-7233 ext. 19.