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Students Environmental Bill of Rights

Taking action to eliminate toxins in schools

Do students know what cleaning solvents might have been used on their classroom carpets? Do they know what the health effects of chemicals used in shop class might be? Do parents know?

In the workplace, workers have the right to know what toxic substances they could be exposed to — and that knowledge has often been crucial in protecting people from toxic exposures.

The right to know has also be a valuable tool in creating a safer workplace. Custodians in several school districts have been successful in getting their school districts to replace products containing potentially harmful ingredients with safer substitutes.

But students in the school and their parents don’t have the right to know what toxic substances they might be exposed to. They don’t have the right to take action to protect themselves. Why not?

Around the province, a lot of people — including many of the custodians who have been involved in eliminating toxic products — have been asking that same question.

It’s what prompted the Labour Environmental Alliance Society to launch an initiative for a Students’ Environmental Bill of Rights (now known as the Toxins-Free Initiative), with the assistance of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria.

The Bill of Rights, which was drafted by the Environmental Law Centre,  would affirm the right of students and their parents to know what toxic substances they could be exposed to in the school environment. It would also give them the right to avoid exposure if a substance could cause them harm.

“The key focus is getting toxins-free schools,” says LEAS executive director Mae Burrows. “We want schools to take an inventory of what’s in the school and take action to eliminate toxins wherever possible. That makes the Bill of Rights a positive achievement."

The initiative was launched as the campaigns for the Nov. 19 school board and municipal elections around the province were getting into full swing. Trustee candidates are being asked to declare their support for the Students’ Environment Bill of Rights.

The initiative will continue beyond the election as school communities push their local districts to endorse the Bill of Rights and to move towards toxins-free schools.


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