School Chemical Clean-out Campaign (SC3)
Schools face many environmental health and safety issues that need to be addressed to improve the learning environment for children, teachers, and administrators. Outdated and unknown chemicals found throughout schools can cause fires, explosions, spills and exposure. These incidents from poorly stored chemicals present a risk to children in addition to thousands of dollars in cleanup costs. One of the most expensive school chemical lab cleanouts in the state of Tennessee was a major component that sparked the School Lab Chemical project. Old chemicals were removed from a school lab to a pick-up truck and were further transported to a warehouse building. Leaking containers and flammable chemicals that were too close to each other in the truck caused a fire to begin. The truck was driven out of the warehouse, and the exposure to the air caused an explosion. The school system had to bear the unexpected cost of $190,000 to clean it up. A more recent incident in Tennessee was in the spring of 2005, employees accidentally disposed of lab chemicals in the regular trash, and the lab clean-out, resulting fire, and cleanup costs were $80,000. In the summer of 2004, EPA provided initial money to some states in each of the regions to support the School Chemical Clean-out Campaign through an open-grant competition. Each region uses the money to support former, current, or newly developed school clean-out and prevention programs. This program focuses on the removal of outdated and unknown potentially harmful chemicals from schools. It also promotes preventive mechanisms such as proper education and training involving chemical management, and raising national awareness of these problems.
For information about SC3 in the Southeast, please contact:
School Cleanup in Alabama
In the last two years, the Alabama Department of Management (ADEM) has removed more than 5,300 containers of waste chemicals from 32 high schools across Alabama. ADEM scientists provided oversight for the schools to sort, lab pack, transport, and dispose of waste chemicals properly.
In September 2006, ADEM was awarded a two-year grant from EPA to help fund the school chemical cleanout effort. This program promotes the removal and proper disposal of potentially dangerous, outdated chemicals from high schools to make it safer for the school, the community, and the environment. In addition to helping schools clean out their chemicals, ADEM used the grant to assist Enterprise High School with the cleanup and disposal of chemicals after the school was destroyed by a tornado.
ADEM is also using a portion of the grant funds to prevent the collection of similar wastes in the future. This effort is supported through the department’s work with the Alabama Science in Motion program (ASIM) and encouraging all public schools to participate in the initiative. Alabama Science in Motion provides schools micro-scale amounts of chemicals and corresponding lab equipment for classroom experiments. The ASIM system is designed to allow participating schools to complete required experiments without purchasing chemicals or having any resulting waste.
For information on school cleanup in Alabama, please contact:
Governmental Compliance & Enforcement Section
Governmental Hazardous Waste Branch
334/274-4168 FAX 334/279-3050
School cleanup in Florida
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is working in conjunction with the Florida Department of Education to clean out chemicals from schools and to assist in managing facility-wide clean school programs. Visit Florida's SC3 web site (http://www.dep.state.fl.us/waste/categories/hazardous/pages/schoolchemicals.htm) to find out more about cleaning out excess, legacy, unused, and improperly stored chemicals, as well as measures to prevent problems with chemicals in schools. This site also provides helpful information on how to inventory and properly dispose of legacy chemicals in Florida schools.
For information on school cleanup in Florida, please contact:
School cleanup in Georgia
Georgia's involvement with the School Chemical Cleanouts began in October of 2002 when the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division (P2AD) (www.p2ad.org) received funding from the EPA to develop programs to remove mercury from schools. P2AD worked with the Georgia Department of Education to promote the mercury removal program to schools.
The main goal was to remove mercury from entire school districts, and the project was very successful. Eighteen school districts were cleaned out under this program, and 850 pounds of mercury and mercury containing devices were removed. By weight, the largest amount of mercury collected was liquid mercury found in schools’ science labs.
The success of this program will be used for a new public and non-profit initiative called Georgia Green and Healthy Schools, in which goals will be focused on chemical, energy, water, and solid waste management.
850 pounds of mercury and mercury containing devices were removed from Georgia schools.
For information on school cleanup in Georgia, please contact:
Leon County School Chemical Exchange Project
EPA Region 4 provided Leon County, Florida with a grant of $18,930 in 2006. The grant money was utilized to market Southern Waste Information Exchange and other waste or material exchanges as a tool for schools to utilize for recycling their unused and/or unwanted chemicals from their science labs (as well as other generation points within the school system).
In order to complete this project, the following items were implemented:
- Developed and printed a postcard (4x6 inches) which outlined how waste or material exchanges could assist schools in recycling old chemicals and provided web addresses for other resource materials about school chemical management.
- Developed a database of 3,346 schools in EPA Region 4 for mailing the postcard.
- Developed a website (presented on the postcard) for more information and guidance on the subject of used or unwanted/unneeded school chemicals.
- Tracked web site hits after the postcard was mailed to determine the success of the marketing effort.
The web hits indicated a total of 224 visits to the site from April 2008 (when the postcards were being received by the schools) through June 2008 and 1,088 separate pages opened by these visitors to the site. For more information, please visit http://wastexchange.org/labs/.
For more information on school cleanup in Leon County, please contact:
Southern Waste Information eXchange, Inc.
For information on school cleanup in Kentucky, please contact:
Kentucky Department of Education
For information on school cleanup in Mississippi, please contact:
Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality
Schools Cleanup North Carolina
The North Carolina Department of Environment & Natural Resources (NCDENR) Compliance Branch of the Hazardous Waste Section was awarded a grant from EPA in 2006 for the removal of hazardous waste chemicals from schools in North Carolina. The grant was also available for teacher training in Green Chemistry and Microscale Chemistry concepts.
Since receiving the grant, presentations have been made to more than 600 teachers at workshops sponsored by the Department of Public Instruction and by Science and Safety Consulting. Presentations were made to more than 800 business and industry representatives for Large Quantity Generators of Hazardous Waste, the Guilford Local Emergency Planning Committee, and to the Guilford Conference for Business & Industry. The presentations to industry have focused on the potential for industry to partner with their local school systems in making the schools safer for children. The idea has been presented as the community service portion of EPA’s National Partnership for Environmental Priorities or for the North Carolina Environmental Stewardship Initiative.
To date, schools have shipped more than 3500 lbs of lab waste off site including flammables, solvents, oxidizers, acids, bases (organic and inorganic), toxic metals, chemical salts, Mercury, and Mercury compounds. Many of the containers found have been very old and in poor condition. Also, two schools discovered old containers of ether, which were potentially explosive. They were safely removed from the schools with the assistance of the North Carolina SBI Bomb Squad (after school was dismissed).
EPA has partnered with chemical companies that have experience in properly disposing of hazardous chemicals, which may cut costs to schools dramatically. NCDENR is currently working toward continuing the project past the grant’s completion date. They will continue to provide Green Chemistry and Micro Chemistry informational CDs, as well as technical assistance and other information to schools.
For more information on School Cleanup in North Carolina, please contact:
For more information on School Cleanup in South Carolina, please contact:
Center for Waste Minimization
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
2600 Bull Street
Columbia, SC 29201
School Cleanup Poarch Band of Creek Indians Alabama
The Poarch Band of Creek Indians Environmental Department, in collaboration with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), was awarded a School Chemical Cleanout Campaign (SC3) grant in 2005 from EPA Region 4 to inventory chemicals, dispose of unused chemicals, and teach green chemistry practices.
School Chemical Cleanouts were conducted at several schools including 177 Native American children in Alabama. Schools included Monroe Academy in Monroeville, Monroe County, AL, and T.R. Miller High School, W.S. Neal High School, and Jefferson Davis Community College which were all in Brewton, Escambia County, AL.
PSC Industrial Services (PSC) cleaned out various types of hazardous chemicals, including old and improperly stored organic, inorganic, strong, and weak acids, bases, flammables, and toxic metals such as mercury. The chemicals were then properly transported and disposed of via incineration at a hazardous waste facility. The Poarch Creek Indian Environmental Department also provided replacement chemicals that were properly enclosed and lab coats for the schools that were in need. PSC, along with the help of TDEC, gave directions and suggestions as to proper housing and care of the chemicals in which the teachers were keeping or were given. The total amount of chemicals removed by the SC3 program in collaboration with the Poarch Creek Indian Environmental Department for the fall of 2008 was 5,324 pounds of waste from five schools which represented 2,459 students.
A household hazardous waste collection event also with the Poarch Band of Creek Indian Reservation took place in 2008. The event was also coordinated with the Poarch Creek Tribe, TDEC and EPA. Tribe members were given the opportunity to bring their household hazardous waste to the police department where it was separated, packaged, transported and safely disposed. The majority of the waste included paint (oil and latex), oil, batteries (automotive and alkaline) and other solvents. In addition, a wide array of electronics was collected separately including televisions, CPUs, and monitors.
For more information on school cleanup for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, please contact:
Environmental Coordinator, Poarch Band of Creek Indians
Photo of various chemicals being packaged for transport.
Photo of lead based paint cans (left), batteries, old electronic appliances (right), etc. were included among the hazardous waste picked up at the household hazardous waste pick-up on September 20th.
Schools Cleanup in Tennessee
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s (TDEC) Office of Environmental Assistance (TDEC/OEA) manages a School Chemical Cleanout Campaign (SC3) that focuses on outdated and unknown school lab chemical problems in Tennessee public and private schools. The primary goals are to remove potentially dangerous chemicals from schools, while educating teachers and students about proper chemical management, lab safety, green/microchemistry alternatives, and waste disposal. Following a successful pilot program in 2003, TDEC/OEA has received two 2-year cycles of EPA Resource Conservation Challenge Grant funds to manage the SC3.
Including the 2003 pilot program ending in FY08, the Tennessee SC3 program has removed a total of 38,941 pounds of waste, including 806 pounds of mercury and an estimated 11,678 pounds of formaldehyde, improving the health and safety of an estimated 167,382 students in 153 schools.
Many schools participating in SC3 also have joined TDEC/OEA’s Green Schools Program, which provides incentives and recognition for promoting environmental education, reducing waste, and conserving natural resources. SC3 and Green Schools staff, in cooperation with chemistry professors at the University of Tennessee and Union University, as well as other experts in the field, offers a session at the Tennessee Science Teachers Association’s annual conference. The session provides safety training and hands-on green chemistry and microscale chemistry lab activities for teachers who have benefitted from the SC3 Program. Numerous summer science teacher in-service sessions have been coordinated with Tennessee Department of Education over the 5-year period.
In order to eliminate mercury thermometers in school labs and nursing classes, EPA funds were used to purchased environmentally friendly lab and fever thermometers and made them available to swap for mercury thermometers. TDEC created a brochure about the Mercury Thermometer Swap Program and a fact card about SC3. They used these to educate the State Fire Marshals, who became a new partner organization to help identify schools with chemical disposal needs. The brochure and fact card were also used to promote the programs at teacher in-services and school visits through the Green Schools Program.
The Tennessee SC3 program web page has been on-line since early 2006. It can be found at www.tennessee.gov/environment/sc3. The web page includes a program summary, a list of inventory procedures, a power point presentation, a summary of Union University developed green chemistry experiments, and a link to EPA’s HeathySEAT program.
The SC3 program continues to give assistance to schools in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. In the fall of 2008, the program cooperated with the Poarch band of the Creek Indians in Atmore, Alabama to remove over 5,324 pounds of waste from five schools representing 2,459 students. Tennessee’s SC3 staff has also assisted other states with start-up of their SC3 programs.
The SC3 program is a cooperative effort between the Tennessee Departments of Environment and Conservation, Department of Education, Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, Tennessee Science Teachers Association, and the US Environmental Protection Agency Programs of Pollution Prevention and Solid Waste Management. During the last grant cycle, the Tennessee State Fire Marshals became our newest partner.
For more information on school cleanup in Tennessee, please contact:
The chemicals are sorted into acids/bases, organics/inorganics, flammables etc. and packaged with vermiculite into steel/plastic barrels for safe shipping (left: inside barrel, right: barrels waiting to get loaded onto truck).
A container of Hg thermometers taken from schools and exchanged with non-hazardous alcohol thermometers.
Union City High School, Union City Tennessee Case Study
There are potentially very dangerous scenarios that can be avoided with care and attention to schools chemistry labs. One of these scenarios was rendered safe at Union City High School in the summer of 2008. A vacant area across from the school was used as the detonation site of a potentially volatile container of an outdated chemical discovered in Union City High School’s chemistry lab. An old bottle of picric acid was discovered in the school when a chemistry teacher was cleaning out the lab.
The picric acid, which should not be stored where it is exposed to air, had become dehydrated and crystallized making it shock sensitive and very dangerous. Picric acid is a chemical compound formally called 2,4,6-trinitrophenol (TNP). Like other highly-nitrated compounds such as TNT, picric acid can be explosive. Modern Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) precautions recommend storing picric acid in glass containers under a layer of water to keep it from crystallizing. This was not the case in the bottle at Union City High School as the water had evaporated.
Plans were made for a bomb squad to arrive from the Union City Fire Department and an ambulance crew to be at the scene on standby. The school was also evacuated (summer crew was present only) as a precaution. The bomb squad officer carefully placed the bottle of picric acid in a detonation bag and walked the bag outside the lab using an exterior door on the west side of the school building. The bag was transported to a nearby field where a small charge was set to cause detonation. Afterward, the bomb squad members returned to the area to ensure the entire explosive had detonated and the area was completely safe.
Photo of a bottle of Picric Acid in chemistry lab drawer.
Photo of bomb squad officer carrying bottle of picric acid in the detonation bag.