Asthma Report


New report links high rate of asthma to poor school environmental conditions in Boston's public schools

City council considers resolutions calling for school building audit deadlines
and increased funding

March 6, Boston, MA –As the Boston City Council considered resolutions that respond to the urgent state of disrepair in Boston's public schools, representatives from two public health advocacy groups released a new report showing stronger evidence linking poor school conditions with high rates of asthma.

Written and produced by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and the Boston Urban Asthma Coalition (BUAC), "Who's Sick at School: Linking poor school conditions and health disparities for Boston's children" is the first report in the state to compare school environmental audits with asthma rates.

"As a parent and MassCOSH Healthy Schools Coordinator, it is shocking to see the data that shows the number of schools with poor environmental conditions that can affect asthma. But when you actually see the conditions with your own eyes, it is a disgrace that we cannot find the resources to make our schools healthy learning places." said Isabel Lopez, at a City Council hearing where the report was released.

Asthma is the number one chronic illness of children in the Boston Public Schools and the number one childhood cause for hospitalizations in Boston. It accounts for an average of 14 million missed school days and results in $9 billion in health care costs nationwide. Nationally, inequities in health conditions, such as asthma, together may account for as much as a quarter of the racial gap in school readiness. The cause or causes of asthma are still unclear although research has found that exposure to pests, molds, diesel exhaust, and environmental tobacco smoke play key roles in asthma's development and exacerbation. Poor school environmental conditions exacerbate already-existing student asthma and contribute to problems such as allergies, sinus infections and decreased student performance.

"It's imperative that we get funding to fix our schools immediately. We need to do something about the leaks and the mice. Students and teachers are getting sick."
Nia Burke, Physical Education Teacher, Boston Teachers Association
Using data from school environmental audits collected in 2004 - 2005, the report shows that those students attending the schools ranking worst on three major environmental factors for asthma (mold, pests, and leaks) also have high asthma rates. Eighty-five percent of Boston Public Schools reported leaks or water stains, 36 reported visible mold growth, 63 percent reported overt pest signs, 83 percent reported repairs needed and 61 percent reported improper chemical storage. Over 80 percent reported one or more of these problems. The schools with the highest percentages are often located in the lowest income areas and those with the highest incidences of asthma – some double the state average.

According to Geraldo Martinez, Principal of the Mary E. Curley Middle School, "One of the major concerns at the Curley is that the building needs to be pointed. We have been on a list for 4 years and the project always gets postponed. We have water that makes its way into the building causing leaks, paint to flake and fall on students and teachers, and dust to cover the radiators. As a result many of our students with asthma are affected—so many have poor attendance because they are out a lot and as a result their grades suffer."

Though the city has an average 7-12 percent child asthma rate, there are some Boston Public Schools with as high as 27 percent of their students suffering from asthma. Exposure to exacerbating factors in their environments at home and school compound, offering asthma sufferers no relief from their symptoms and resulting in decreased concentration and missed school days. With no freedom to change living conditions or schools, their only hope is the improvement of these conditions.
Mary White, BUAC Parent Leader and parent of two Boston Public School students said, "We know what the problem is and we have the findings, so why does it take so long to get repairs done? It should be about the health of our children, yet why does it take so long? The money should be in the budget to fix our schools."

In presenting this report, the Coalitions call for the Mayor and City Council to support them in raising the $200 million needed for capital repairs that would bring these top offenders up to safe and healthy standards and to ensure that the Mayor's Green Building Initiative prioritizes work in the schools. They also emphasized that the health of children of color and low income families are disproportionately impacted: 85% of Boston's student population are children of color and 74% qualify for free or reduced-rate meals.

"The city can address many of these problems now. While we would like to see the state and federal government add their support, we can't wait forever. We have known about the problems long enough – it is time to see some changes made." said Jean Zotter, Executive Director of the Boston Urban Asthma Coalition.

"Who's Sick at School: Linking poor school conditions and health disparities for Boston's children" is available on

MassCOSH is a nonprofit, membership-based coalition that promotes safe, healthy schools, workplaces and communities through training, research and advocacy.

Boston Urban Asthma Coalition is a nonprofit that advocates for citywide environmental and health improvements, conducts education, supports community leadership, and promotes collaboration among members to produce a single, comprehensive and coordinated approach to asthma control in Boston.


Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health


Tolle Graham, MassCOSH Healthy Schools Coordinator
617-825-7233 ext. 19
617-291-7763 (cell)
Isabel Lopez, En Espanol ext. 18

Jean Zotter, BUAC Executive Director
617-407-6481 (cell)