11 June 2024, Quezon City.  As public school teachers in the country take a well-deserved vacation from the hustle and bustle of school life, a group of some 100 elementary and high school teachers took part in an interactive learning activity aimed at protecting the health of their students and themselves from hazardous chemicals, particularly in the school setting.

The seminar held on June 11, 2024 at the Caloocan High School was organized by the EcoWaste Coalition and the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health – Center for Research and Innovation (ACRI), which have partnered to “raise awareness on the effects of the exposure to toxic chemicals on the health and environment of vulnerable populations and communities through the conduct of research and public education campaigns.”

Held in collaboration with the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC), an organization that envisions “a nation that places great value on the education of its people and recognizes the importance of teachers and the dignity of the teaching profession,” the seminar attracted more than 100 teacher-leaders from the National Capital Region, Central Luzon and the Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon (CALABARZON) Region.

Environmental health specialist Dr. Geminn Louis Apostol discusses the various sources of childhood lead exposure.

After a plenary talk on common chemical hazards and their effects on human health by Dr. Geminn Louis Apostol, environmental health specialist at ACRI, breakout sessions were held to stir up participants to identify these hazards in the classroom and create innovative information and advocacy materials aimed at educating others, especially the students, about these hazards.

“We consider this partnership with ACRI and EcoWaste Coalition as our responsibility. TDC, as a teacher organization, also advocates for children’s rights and well-being. A key part of these rights is providing a safe school environment, free from any kind of danger, where kids can learn and grow without fear. Schools are like a second home for our students; they spend a big part of their day here, often more than they do at home. That’s why it’s so important for us to ensure their health and safety while they’re in our care,” said Benjo Basas, National Chairperson, TDC.

 should be sanctuaries where students feel secure, supported, and inspired to learn. Classrooms, as the primary spaces where children spend a significant portion of their day, play a critical role in shaping their health, development, and overall well-being,” said Apostol. “Ensuring these spaces are free from chemical risks is fundamental to protect the health of our children and promote a conducive learning environment.”However, schools, like other facilities, make use of hazardous chemicals for a variety of reasons, including educational opportunities (science laboratories or art classes), cleaning and sanitation purposes. These chemicals can unintentionally or sometimes intentionally be released.

Teachers Maribel and Rey identify some of the chemical hazards in the classroom.

“Because of children’s developing bodies and age-associated behaviors, they are more susceptible to being affected by hazardous chemicals,” Apostol pointed out.  “As such, teachers play a pivotal role in maintaining safe classroom environments. This entails not only being aware of the potential chemical hazards present in everyday school supplies and maintenance products but also knowing how to effectively manage and mitigate these risks.”
Affirming what Apostol said, EcoWaste Coalition’s campaigner Manny Calonzo stated: “We couldn’t agree more. Teachers perform an indispensable role in keeping the classrooms and the entire school safe from hazardous chemicals that can threaten children’s health and safety.  We are one with our teachers and principals, the Department of Education and our fellow advocates in promoting the rights of our young learners to a healthy, non-toxic school environment.”The animated seminar concluded with the participants sharing creative information and learning materials resulting from their interactive discussions that educators can use to raise chemical safety awareness among students.