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Five simple steps to a less toxic school

As parents become more aware of the chemicals their children are exposed to on a daily basis (and the negative effects on their health), many are trying to reduce their exposure to many of these toxic chemicals. And while switching to non-toxic products at home may seem to be a doable challenge, trying to reduce your child’s exposure at school may seem out of reach! But don’t despair…it can be done.

Some quick facts about chemicals and schools:

  • Toxic chemicals are commonly found in schools in a variety of places: PCBs found in old light fixtures, hazardous building materials like PVC floors, some classroom supplies (art supplies), cleaning agents, synthetic fields, and some schools are located near or on toxic superfund sites.
  • Cleaning a classroom with certified green products releases less than 1/6 of the total air pollution released by cleaning a classroom with conventional cleaners.
  • Toxic chemicals have a more dramatic effect on children than adults. “A child’s chemical exposures are greater pound for pound than those of an adult.”
  • Making children more vulnerable to chemical exposures at school, “A child breathes up to twice as much air as adults- an important factor when considering the effects of air pollution in the classroom.”

You have decided you want to help ensure a less toxic environment for your child as school. But how do you get started? How can you make changes in your child’s school to help protect all the children from toxic chemicals?

Five simple tips to help get you started on the path to a less toxic school.

  1. Switch out cleaners- Cleaning products are applied to nearly every surface of the school. Asking school administration and teachers to switch cleaners is a critical piece of “greening” and can help reduce toxic chemicals for all school-aged children. Younger children are even more susceptible as they are closer to the ground, put objects in their mouths and are developing at a rapid rate. An added benefit is that switching cleaners may reduce asthma symptoms in some children.
  2. Take a look at soaps in the school- Products such as soaps, lotions, wipes and other products may contain formaldehyde releasing chemicals, phthalates (linked to asthma, birth defects and more) and triclosan (a pesticide used in anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizers). Simple switches can go a long way to protect children from harmful chemicals.
  3. Clean up the cafeteria- Popular foods contain a long list of chemicals including pesticides, artificial colors, genetically modified foods, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and more. Some of these chemicals have been linked to hyperactivity, asthma, allergies, cancer and other health issues that are rising rapidly in our children. Working with school administration to reduce the use of pesticides and food dyes can go a long way to protect the health of your children.
  4. Help build schools in safe areas- Use a safe school citing toolkit from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice to avoid having a new school built in an old toxic area. They have a great guide for helping parents to take action, organize your community and address pesky toxic chemicals like PVC and PCBs.
  5. Avoid toxic artificial turfs- Many schools are switching their grass fields to synthetic turf fields, which some have been found to contain high levels of lead, or use old tires as the “crumb filling.” Check out this step-by-step guide to fight a synthetic turf in your school and advocated for a pesticide-free school lawn. If you have a synthetic turf already installed in your child’s school, you can have it tested for lead.

Education is critical in “greening” a school. In most cases, implementing these changes will take a grassroots efforts by parents. Most staff and personnel may have no idea that these products may be having on the children and need information to show them why “greening” is important!

Healthy Green Schools is a green school certification program. HGS offers consulting for schools to help implement the entire “greening” program, walking parents, teacher, and staff through the process step-by-step, and providing education all along the way. The certification includes recycling, reducing waste, healthy food guidelines, and reducing toxic chemicals in schools.