Warning: Going to school may be dangerous to health.
That sentence is ridiculous, of course. But messages coming out of Washington these days seem to indicate that the schoolhouse is downright threatening to youngsters who meet there.First it was asbestos, once used as insulation and now described as a possible cause of lung disease when the fibers are inhaled. A federally-mandated program calls for schools to survey all buildings, locate any of the material and have it removed.
The cost can be enormous, and Utah school officials are not convinced that the danger warrants the expense and disruption. Some district officers call it a waste of money.
The next alarm was over lead in the drinking water at schools. Lead sediment from pipes and soldered joints in school water systems and drinking fountains is said to pose a possible threat of brain damage.
Once again, school officials are doubtful that the problem is serious enough to justify the cries of alarm.
Now, a new federal study says the levels of radioactive radon gas may be high enough in some classrooms to pose a danger to health. They recommend that all schoolrooms be tested.
Unlike asbestos and lead, the colorless and odorless radon is not the result of construction materials used in the schools but occurs naturally because of tiny amounts of radioactive decay in soils and rocks. Sometimes the gas becomes trapped in buildings or certain rooms and slowly accumulates.
Some school officials around the nation think the federal warning is based on weak scientific evidence, raises unfounded fears, and will also waste money.
This is not to say that health concerns should be dismissed out of hand. But if the trend continues, science may soon find that nearly everything is somehow dangerous, forcing educators to tear down all the schools and hold classes outdoors.
But that wouldn't help either. Pupils would be exposed to pneumonia in the winter, cancer-causing sunburn in the summer and acid rain all year. Maybe things are better left as they are.
Instead of worrying about insulation, drinking fountains, and air circulation in the schools, how about focusing on more threatening problems like dropouts, drug abuse, and lack of learning?