February 17, 2015 By Peaks to Prairies

American school children spend over 15,000 hours in school buildings between Kindergarten and 12 th grade. Over 70% of these students, and the teachers and staff that serve them, are negatively affected by indoor environmental pollutants, including cleaning supplies, laboratory chemicals, art supplies and more. In addition, due to ignorance or negligence these substances are often improperly disposed and thereby introduced into the water system, polluting public drinking water, streams and lakes.

Where are these toxins found? From high school science labs to elementary custodial closets, a variety of chemicals are housed in schools. Often times these chemicals remain unused for years, are kept well beyond their shelf life, or are improperly stored, leading to elevated levels of health, safety and environmental hazards.The proper use and management of chemicals – including inventorying, labeling, storage and disposal – is absolutely vital in protecting students, teachers and staff, and the environment from unnecessary chemical exposure and costly accidents.

This School Chemical Cleanout Toolkit was created by the Region 8 Peaks to Prairies Pollution Prevention Information Center at Montana State University and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. The intention of the Toolkit is to serve as a guidance document to assist Region 8 schools in achieving the following goals:

  • Successfully implement a cleanout resulting in the removal of excess, unused, outdated and potentially harmful chemicals.
  • Establish preventative measures to ensure that all chemicals are managed properly in the future.
  • Increase awareness of pollution prevention alternatives (e.g. less hazardous cleaning products, microscale chemistry etc.).
  • Educate teachers and staff about the dangers of hazardous chemicals.
  • Assist in compliance with local, state and federal regulations for chemical use and management.

In addition to a brief introduction to the key components of chemical management, this Toolkit offers a series of Department-Specific Sections for individual departments within the school (i.e. Science Lab, Art Class, Photography Class, Wood Shop, Auto Shop, Custodial/School Maintenance and Administration). Each folder contains a department-specific, in-depth chemical inventory along with individualized checklists created to:

  • Offer case-specific details to assist the cleanouts within the individual departments (including inventory and appropriate disposal)
  • Examine the purchasing policies of the individual departments.
  • Offer suggestions for storage and labeling methods.
  • Introduce pollution prevention alternatives.

As identified in the EPA’s Draft Chemical Management for Schools document there are several pressing reasons why school administrators and teachers should be concerned about chemicals in their schools:

  • Poor chemical management can create health and safety hazards for both school employees and students.
  • Expenses (including liabilities) due to a chemical accident can accrue quickly.
  • Community trust is easy to break but difficult to regain.
  • Poor or improper chemical management can negatively impact the surrounding environment (including air and water pollution).
  • Schools must meet regulatory obligations.

*NOTE: This Toolkit does not supersede any federal, state or local laws/regulations. It is strictly intended as a guidance document.