March 01, 2004

IAQ Hero Joellen Lawson

Newtown, CT, former special education teacher Fairfield Public Schools: Lawson wants state standards for school maintenance and building renovation. Her 'Canary Committee' also backs required training for school district personnel on indoor air quality.        

Excerpt from hearings held by 107TH CONGRESS

Last Fall when I agreed to be interviewed for NEA Today and Schoolhouse News my motivation was to warn others of the dangers of poor indoor air quality before it is too late. I have learned my case is not an isolated one as teachers throughout the U.S. have told me about mold contamination in their schools and the physical symptoms they have endured which are sadly reminiscent of mine.

Their stories have strengthened my resolve to campaign for legally enforceable air quality standards. I believe if such policies had been in place the McKinley School disaster might have been averted. The extensive and extremely hazardous mold contamination at McKinley would not have been allowed to fester for years. The 'deferred maintenance' that contributed to the building's deterioration would not have been so readily tolerated had regular air quality testing been implemented.

Those of us with pre-existing conditions such as allergies and asthma who are most vulnerable to the effects of toxic air quality would have been more cognizant of the risks we were undertaking by simply coming to work at a sick building. I only wish I had been armed with the knowledge I have acquired since McKinley was shut down, before I was assigned there in 1991 and especially after my trip to the emergency room in 1998.

Many of the health and career decisions I made in 1998 would have been dramatically different had I comprehended the connection between my illness and work environment. First of all, I would never have exposed myself to such air quality again by re-entering the building. Secondly, I would have immediately filed for a workman's compensation claim. Finally, I would have sought the advice of a physician with a background in mold related illnesses. In that way, I might have avoided the waste of time, energy and expense of meeting with fourteen medical practitioners who ordered testing and the use of medicines which for the most part actually aggravated my condition.

Believe me, I do not relish exposing parts of my medical history in a public forum such as this. I realize doing so will not repair my health, fix my financial woes or bring back the daily contact with my students that made my job such a deeply satisfying one. However, if in some way my testimony helps to protect the basic civil right of teachers and students to work in a safe and healthy environment, then this will have been worth it. Thank you for you kind attention.

Read more:

CBS News: Kids Getting Sick From School, FAIRFIELD, Conn., June 5, 2002

National Education WEEKLY December 9, 2002 Vol. 1 No. 8
CANARIES IN A SCHOOLHOUSE: Former teacher Joellen Lawson was tired of the mold, dirt, poor ventilation and chemical fumes overtaking the Newton, Conn., school she once taught in. So she organized the Canary Committee to sing loudly of the ills of unhealthy school buildings. Lawson wants state standards for school maintenance and building renovation. The Canary Committee also backs required training for school district personnel on indoor air quality procedures. Now, who can argue against cleaning up the dirt in schools? In Lawson's view, the Fairfield school district did. The district was forced to spend more than $21 million to build a new school after closing the one where Lawson worked. (AP/Boston Globe, 12/2)

Connecticut Education Association: Schoolhouse News, Winter 2001-2002, The personal cost of poor air quality, School mold ends Fairfield teacher's career.