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Medford School Wins Leadership Award for Educating Children About Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Release Date: 06/03/2005
Contact Information:

Contact: Sheryl Rosner, EPA Office of Public Affairs, (617) 918-1865,

For Immediate Release: June 3, 2005; Release # sr050603

BOSTON - A Medford, Mass. elementary school was recognized today for their efforts to help students understand and minimize the health risks of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. Columbus Elementary School received EPA’s Environmental Leadership in Indoor Air Award for its environmental tobacco smoke education activities and accomplishments.

Environmental tobacco smoke is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe, or cigar, and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers. This mixture contains more than 4,000 substances, more than 40 of which are known to cause cancer in humans or animals and many of which are strong irritants.

“Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke can be a health concern, especially for people with asthma and other respiratory concerns,” said Ira Leighton, the deputy regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Staff and students at Columbus Elementary School have done excellent work educating children, parents and the community about the health risks of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.”

The awards were presented by Tom Kelly, EPA’s Director of the Indoor Environments Division in Washington, D.C. “We hope that administrators and staff from other schools in this region and across the nation will follow your model, and take similar preventative steps to educate children about the health effects from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke,” said Kelly.

In addition to an award for the school, also recognized for their efforts were school nurses Karen Roberto and Karen Breen, as well as art teacher Julie Roberts. The awards recognized the multi-faceted educational activities involving administrators, teachers, nurses and fifth, fourth and third graders.

“The Medford Public Schools Health Department considers tobacco, alcohol and other drugs a priority for health prevention and education,” said Eileen DiBattista, Director of Health at Medford Public Schools. “We like to engage the community, parents and businesses whenever possible in our efforts. Our nurses teach about the health risks to children from environmental tobacco smoke and Karen Roberto and Karen Breen are exemplary leaders of a coordinated health program at work.”

The Columbus program began after school nurses Roberto and Breen noticed some children coming to their office with pneumonia and smelling of tobacco smoke. Although the school provides smoking prevention education, the nurses felt it was important to address the immediate situation by educating students, parents and community on the harmful health effects from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

The nurses coordinated with the art teacher Roberts to have fourth graders create posters about the dangers of environmental tobacco smoke. Roberto contacted the local shopping mall and asked to display the posters. The nurses had a display table at the mall to talk with local residents about children's exposure to secondhand smoke and hand out EPA's Take the Smoke-free Home Pledge brochure.

“This is a continuing education program for the public to better understand the ill effects of second hand smoke in our society," remarked Medford Mayor Michael J. McGlynn. "Medford has been a leader to promote clean air not only through this campaign, but also the campaign to add diesel particulate filters on our school buses. These filters help to reduce pollutants in the air that can contribute to bronchial and asthmatic conditions in our youth.”

Fifth graders also created secondhand smoke awareness posters to educate third graders. This student-to-student approach gave children their own process for teaching each other and sharing the posters within the school.

Columbus Elementary School continues to embrace the issue of environmental tobacco smoke and children and plans on several other educational activities this year.
Children are especially vulnerable to environmental tobacco smoke because their lungs are developing. This is likely due to several factors, including that children are still developing physically, have higher breathing rates than adults, and have little control over their indoor environments. Infants and young children whose parents smoke are among the most seriously affected by exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, being at increased risk of middle ear infections, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and lower respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. EPA estimates that environmental tobacco smoke is responsible for between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year.

Children with asthma are especially at risk. EPA estimates that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke increases the number of episodes and severity of symptoms in 200,000 to 1,000,000 children with asthma. Moreover, environmental tobacco smoke is a risk factor for new cases of asthma in children who have not previously exhibited asthma symptoms.

More information on environmental tobacco smoke is available at: or by calling the Smoke-free Home Pledge Hotline at 1-866 SMOKE-FREE (1-866-766-5337).

 Related Information:
Indoor Air -
Smoke-free Homes