March 18, 2011

2011 Healthy Schools Hero Dr. Dwight Peavey

Every year, to mark the anniversary of the March 18, 1937 Texas School Explosion, I salute a Healthy Schools Hero whose extraordinary responsibility and inspirational leadership is dedicated to eliminating explosives and other chemical hazards and unhealthy conditions in schools.  

The March 18 Healthy Schools Hero Award is an annual call to tell the story of the worst school disaster in American history as a case study and cautionary tale.  By example, each Hero is an inspiration to break the silence about school hazards and bring the Lessons of the 1937 Texas School Explosion to today’s schools.  

The 1937 story needs telling because the decision-making and false economies that led to the 1937 explosion are too common in schools today.  We have widespread school design, building and operations problems, warnings are unheeded, no one takes responsible for safety, and explosives and other hazardous materials and unhealthy conditions in labs, classrooms, closets and storerooms are routinely ignored.  

The 1937 explosion resulted in a law that required adding a warning odor to natural gas thus saving millions of lives all over the world.  However, other important recommendations of the 1937 Court of Inquiry have yet to be used so that schools are teaching safely and teaching safety to students in 21st century schools.    

Today is the 74th anniversary ... Survivors Remember

Voices of New London narrated slideshow:

“...I was in the PTA program in the gym,” West said. “I played the triangle in the Little Rhythm Band. We had just finished when the teacher told us we could get on the buses at the big school gym.
“I didn’t know which was my bus, so I had just walked back and got in line when (the building) exploded.”

March 17, 2011

Lax oversight of school construction raises doubts about earthquake safety. State regulators have routinely failed to enforce California’s landmark earthquake safety law for public schools, allowing children and teachers to occupy buildings with structural flaws and potential safety hazards reported during construction. California Watch

Unfinished Legacy:
The story of the 1937 Texas School Explosion needs to be part of our national legacy because the decision-making that led to the 1937 explosion is the same type of decision-making in schools today.  Short cuts and false economies put children at risk...

The story can inspire us to break the silence about school hazards and to prioritize the values and technical skills we need to live safely with 21st century chemicals and technology. 

March 14, 2011

2011 Hero Dr. Dwight Peavey Testimonies

Peter Swanson, Former Teacher and Department Chair at Quincy High School
Robert Czerwinski, Acting Fire Chief in Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Peter Swanson, Former Teacher and Department Chair at Quincy High School writes:

I took over as Department Chair of Science at Quincy High School five years ago.  I heard Dwight speak to a group of department heads south of Boston.  When he finished I raced to speak with him because we had a mess on our hands.  The Department had collected chemicals and supplies for I would guess 50 years or more and we had no money for disposal.  He told me that he would visit the school, make an assessment, talk to the principal and then give me an action time line. 

During the summer he and his crew cleaned up our science facilities and then went to the other High School and the middle schools to clean up there.  Dwight and I developed a wonderful professional relationship.  I advocate for his program when attending conferences.

Because of Dwight's commitment to Green Chemistry, he helped us get funding for a BeyondBenign summer program.  Never in my thirty-year career have I ever been involve in such a powerful program.  Half of the students were going into their junior or senior years and the others were incoming freshmen.  The impact on those seniors has been incredible as they all headed of to college in some phase of science or technology.  One of the seniors is at Boston College as a freshman and chemistry has been a breeze for her.  A second girl is at Simmons College and the Department Chair at Simmons told me that they have never had a freshman so on track in chemistry since he has been there.  Our incoming freshmen at the time will now be juniors.  They are all at the top of the class.

It becomes so simple.  Dwight saw a program with potential and he trusted what he saw.  He worked hard to fund it and then in his Dwight Peavey way, he stepped back and smiled.  He knows what works.

None of this inspiration would have come to me, the teachers in the program or the turned-on students if Dwight hadn't stopped me at the NSTA Convention in Boston a few years ago and said, "Hey Peter, I think we can do something special at Quincy High School for your science program."

Robert Czerwinski, Acting Fire Chief in Pittsfield, Massachusetts says:

“Dwight has been wonderful, top caliber. I first met Dwight at a Massachusetts Hazardous Materials Technical Conference and learned how he worked with schools.  His presentation was engaging and entertaining. I could have listened to him all day. We were excited when he came to help Pittsfield Schools.  Five members of the Fire Department Inspections Bureau observed his process and we all hold Dwight and his team in the highest esteem. It gave us a better awareness of chemical safety issues in schools – especially chemical storage -- and helped us to become a local resource, getting involved in improving areas of school safety that previously may have gone unnoticed.  State regulation require quarterly inspection but now, in addition to checking routine items, we also check emergency showers, check storage cabinets looking for signs of leaks and spills, and look for problems such as materials left out on counters and proper labeling. 

Czerwinski encourages other schools not to be afraid of asking for help.  “Welcome them in with open arms.  Peavey’s team is here to help.  In a time when budgets are shirking, this is one program that brings benefits four-fold to the community.  The state doesn’t have the program or the resources. If you had to call in a Hazardous Waste Contractor it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

March 13, 2011

“I think this is something that people in the rest of the country need to know about; it should be part of our national history, and I’m hoping my book will help more people become aware of it. The story is still relevant today because safe handling of natural resources continues to be an issue, he said. The explosion was caused by a natural gas leak beneath the school.The book doesn’t focus solely on the disaster itself,” Brown said. “It’s also about the aftermath; how people coped with the depths of their grief — some families lost several children in a matter of moments — and how the rest of their lives turned out.”...

-- David Brown, quoted in March 17, 2011, "Lasting wounds: Almost 75 years after New London explosion, book brings national exposure." 

David Brown, an author and former East Texas journalist, is hoping to change that with the publication of an upcoming book titled “Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History.” The “3:17” refers to the time of the afternoon explosion.

March 12, 2011

“Safety is No Accident: Live Injury-free.

Plan an event to celebrate National Public Health Week April 4-10

The theme for National Public Health Week is “Safety is No Accident: Live Injury-free.”  You can prevent injuries by making chemical safety part of every school's ongoing security audits and safety plan. 

Bring the Lessons of the 1937 Texas School Explosion to Your SchoolJust Say "Know" to explosives, flammables and other hazards and toxic chemicals in labs, storerooms and other school areas. 

Help raise awareness of the urgent need for responsible leadership and partnerships to eliminate explosives and other hazards and unhealthy conditions in schools.  Teach Safety, Teach Safely. Give students the skills and values to safeguard their future families and co-workers and "to live safer healthier longer lives.  Go to "What Can I Do?" to find ideas for activities and events.

March 04, 2011

Save the Gummy Bears, Save the World

gummiesAmy Cannon writes: I recently received an e-mail with a link to an article that had the title “Chemistry class explosion injures seven.” I was hesitant to open it, worried about what disaster I would find inside, but did anyway. The article was about a local chemistry teacher who was demonstrating a reaction between potassium chlorate and “food” when the reaction went “awry” and exploded upon her and seven students. Luckily there were no life threatening injuries, just minor cuts and burns. But, despite these “minor injuries”, my mind still went to that classroom on that more

Amy Cannon, is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Beyond Benign, a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable science in order to create an environmentally, socially and economically prosperous world.

March 03, 2011

Poison Prevention Week March 20-26, 2011

Be alert for poisons in school closets, storerooms, classrooms, art studios, sports area and labs.

Hazards in High Schools and Middle Schools
Dave Waddell is the Environmental Investigator and Project Coordinator for the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County, Seattle WA,  He works with schools to reduce their use of hazardous chemicals, dispose of unneeded and degraded chemicals and improve the management of those they need to keep and use.    Here's a link to the smaller version of the slide show he uses to train art teachers: Hidden Hazards in the Arts:  Dyeing and other art hazards
Kids and Toxins: Exposures at School
Children can be exposed to a myriad of environmental toxins in and around schools every day. From cleaning products to plastics, toxins in the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat can have a significant impact on their health.  Three of the most worrisome exposures commonly found at schools across the country are detailed in our award-winning ChildSafe School Program -- cleaning products, turf pesticides and diesel exhaust.
The Artist's Complete Health and Safety Guide (3rd edition, Allworth Press) by Monona Rossol.   Although written for artists and teachers in the arts, the book is useful reading for anyone interested in healthier schools.  There are safety checklists, ingredients tables, and ventilation guidelines.  Arts, Crafts and Theater Safety Data Sheets from 1 to 10 pages on over 60 different technical subjects related to health and safety in art and theater.
Clean and Safe in the 21st Century (PDF format)
(A guide that includes information on household cleaning product labels, safety and storage; hard surface cleaning; poison prevention and more. Appropriate for childcare and healthcare professional, educators, and parents.)  Request a free copy by mentioning Send order to American Cleaning Institute, 1331 L St NW, Suite 650, Washington, DC 20005. 
This is a guide for local health and safety officers, elected officials, emergency responders, local  emergency planning committees, businesses,  workers and concerned citizens to reassess community safety and security regarding the storage, use, production and transport of extremely hazardous chemicals. Throughout the US economy, thousands of facilities use and ship high volumes of these chemicals, threatening populous communities near to facilities and transit routes where chemical releases can happen. Most chemical incidents to date have involved accidental releases of chemicals to the environment.  The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 made apparent that chemical sites around the US could also be targets of terrorists wishing to intentionally harm people and property. While hiring more security guards at these sites may safeguard against some threats, the truth is that these facilities are often so vulnerable that only sharply reducing or eliminating the presence of extremely hazardous substances can truly protect against intentional assaults.

Telling their stories: Voices of the 1937 Texas School Explosion

"Recollections" is the "human interest" section of New London School Explosion website:  It includes the (unedited) words of the survivors or of those closely related to them. Within these pages you will find personal accounts of the tragedy taken from newspaper articles, information sent to me, and personal interviews.

Click on the links below to read their stories.

Virgie Blalock Abercrombie
Clotiele B. Abercrombie
Loyd D. Abercrombie Sr

John Armstrong
Lola Bento
Lu Campbell
Dorothy Womack Box
Pearl Shaw Holbert
James E. "Ike" Challis

Beaver Cole
Howard Coleman
Cronkite, Walter
Degnan, Julie E.
Erikson, Charles Henry
Ezell, Alta Reigh
Farrell, Hal
Gregory, Doug
Grenley, Martha Rogers
Grigg, Horace
Grigg, William N.
Hannon, Bill
Harris, Howard
Johnson, Joe and Bobby
Lester, George
Lester, George - Playmates
Mayhew, Bessie

McAllister, Mark

Meissner, J. Raymond
Moody, Mildred
Motley, Pete
Nelson, Ron
Plant, Sally
Read, Osceola Jefferson
Robertson, William Judson
Robinson, Jimmie
Mack Thornton Rogers
Ryan, Terri Jo
Stanley, Glenda G.
Taylor, Bob
Taylor, Jim
Thompson, Bill
Vento, Eduardo
Vinson, Allen Earl
Vinson, Melvin
Williams, William B.