Box 4-3 Teaching Environmental Health to Elementary School Students
ToxRAP (toxicology, risk assessment, and air pollution), a kindergarten to 8th-grade curriculum developed by Audrey Gotsch and colleagues at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center in New Jersey, uses air pollution examples to teach toxicology and environmental health risk assessment. In the 3rd- to 5th-grade curriculum, students learn a basic hazard assessment framework to guide their investigation concerning carbon monoxide poisoning by using a case study that describes a family who has been experiencing mysterious health symptoms. Following the class lessons, a teacher reported that one of her students made the link to her grandmother's complaints of headaches, stomachaches, and feelings of tiredness. On the basis of the information received from the granddaughter, the grandmother had her home checked and found that she had an elevated carbon monoxide level due to a faulty furnace. Several other teachers reported that their students had been successful in getting their families to buy carbon monoxide detectors; some students even requested carbon monoxide detectors for their holiday presents.
Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and based at the Department of Community Medicine, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Mount Sinai Medical Center.
The committee also visited the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, which trains at-risk youth for environmental careers. Building on its experiences, it should be possible to replicate such programs in other locales. For example, many chemical firms get involved with the communities where their facilities are located, and many others have expressed a desire to do so. Providing jobs for young people and participating in their training is one way to establish better contacts that benefit both the company and the community.
These examples are not the only ways of involving individuals from at-risk communities in environmental health and safety. Topics that capture the interest of environmental activists might be attractive candidates for conventional educational programs. The American Chemical Society (ACS) has attempted to increase interest in the chemistry profession by sponsoring a problem-oriented year-long high school chemistry course for college-bound students, Chemistry in the Community (American Chemical Society, 1998). In keeping with ACS's objectives, there is little social content to these lessons (although there is some treatment of risk issues). The imagination of students in communities of concern might be captured by curricula showing the beneficial and detrimental roles that chemicals play in their lives.
The committee believes, on the basis of these and many other, similar reports, that creative, innovative teachers can engage their students in the neighborhood-relevant and life-pertinent issues of environmental health and safety. In