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Hazards/Issues by Department

I. The Issue:

This section provides a general listing of the types of hazards found within each section of the local school system. These concerns have been broken down and listed by grade level and where appropriate by individual departments within various grade levels. Only a limited discussion of each hazard is provided in this section. Please refer to the appropriate section within the case study for more information on a particular concern. I have attempted to list all the hazards or concerns that have been noted during our review. We have made efforts to resolve many of the items noted.

II. Observations made:

Hazards or concerns common to all local schools:

The following issues and concerns have been noted at all or most of the local schools.

1. We have found damaged asbestos in many of the local schools. The degree of damage, type of asbestos containing material involved, and the location of the material will determine the significance of the hazard presented by the material.

2. Asbestos containing material is present in all local schools. The presence of this material requires that we remain vigilant to ensure that future renovations and utility installations do not damage this material and result in the uncontrolled release of asbestos.

3. The water quality provided by the cafeteria sinks and drinking fountains should be tested on a regular basis. We have found that the acidic nature of the local water has caused these fixtures to leach lead and copper if the water is allowed to remain stagnant. You should consider your water source and local contaminant concerns when developing a sampling strategy.

4. We found hazardous chemicals present at all local schools. These materials were used by both the maintenance staff as well as part of the curriculum.

5. We found flammable liquids present in all local schools. The most common materials were methanol based duplicating fluid, oil based paints and thinners, and petroleum based solvents. The presence of these materials represents a potential fire hazard.

6. A review of waste streams indicated that each school generated some form of hazardous waste. As a result, each facility needed a method for identifying and properly managing the hazardous waste generated by the school.

7. In addition, each school generates universal waste (e.g. fluorescent lamps, electric ballast's, mercury switches, computer components, and batteries) which must be properly recycled or disposed of as hazardous waste to ensure environmental protection and regulatory compliance.

8. All of our schools were originally heated using an oil burning heating system, consequently each building was originally constructed with an underground oil storage tank. These fuel storage systems will continue to pose a risk of environmental release until the tanks are taken out of service and removed for disposal.

9. Several local schools have experienced indoor air quality problems as the result of water damage caused by leaking roofs or floods. The presence of moisture has promoted the growth of mold and mildew at several locations. These growths can generate serious allergic responses in the effected population.

10. Air quality concerns related to the use of various volatile chemicals have also been noted at several schools. The majority of the complaints have been associated with the use of adhesives, aerosols, paints, solvents, and pesticides.

11. We have also noted indoor air quality concerns associated with the design and maintenance of the heating and ventilation system. These problems have been related to improper rate of fresh air exchange, and poor temperature control. We have also noted a large number of improper modifications that were implemented as a means to promote energy efficiency by reducing the rate of fresh air exchange.

12. A number of internal pollutant sources have been identified in the local schools which may degrade air quality. Some of the potential problems include: unventilated kilns, spray booths, animals, plants, chemical storage and usage, and sanitary drains.

13. We have noted resistance to respond to the detection of chemical clouds/odors in the local schools. In addition, the administration has displayed a willingness to discount the report of possible health effects associated to chemical releases in the local schools.

14. A review of the fire extinguishers maintained at the local schools has detected the following types of problems: units missing or obstructed, a failure to annually inspect and service all fire extinguishers, the failure to provide the proper type of extinguisher for the types of fires that may occur in that area.

15. Poor chemical management has been a common problem noted in local schools. These problems have been related to: unsecured chemical storage in the classroom, open chemical containers in boiler rooms or maintenance areas, and the joint storage incompatible substances in classrooms and maintenance areas.

16. A review of staff training indicated that improvements could be made in the following areas: asbestos management, fire extinguisher usage, chemical management, right to know, spill response, and indoor air quality assessment. Many of the staff members expected to participate in these areas had received little or no training in these areas.

17. In most cases, even the most basic personnel protective equipment such as rubber gloves and safety goggles were not available for staff or student use.

18. In addition, many of the schools did not possess spill response materials or a spill response plan. The maintenance of a basic response level capable of mitigating a 5 to 10 gallon release could significantly enhance our ability to prevent a small nuisance leak or spill from becoming a very costly problem. You also need to consider the types of materials that may be spilled: petroleum products, corrosives, mercury.

19. A significant problem noted was that no one employed by the school system had been assigned the task or made accountable to investigate or resolve environmental, health and safety concerns or complaints. As a result, such complaints were either ignored, disputed or referred to a consultant for resolution without consideration for the original cause. This resulted in the long term persistence of many hazards.

20. We also noted that many schools could not identify all chemicals present on site. In addition, many could not locate a material safety data sheet for each item maintained in their chemical inventory.

The following is a listing of special or unique hazards located within specific schools or departments in addition to the items listed previously.

Elementary Schools:

1. We noted the presence of a variety of hazardous chemicals in prepackaged laboratory instructional aids which posed a hidden hazard. The contents of these kits were often overlooked or forgotten by the staff. A review of these materials indicated that many of these materials and the hazards associated with the materials were poorly identified (sample labeling: solution A, toxic, do not consume). Frequently, these kits did not contain material safety data sheets to identify health and safety concerns or treatment measures should someone ingest or absorb the material. In addition, during our research we found containers of concentrated corrosives and confirmed human carcinogens in kits purchased for use by elementary school children. We also noted that the older the kit, the greater the likelihood that the chemical contents were toxic and poorly identified.

2. All the ceramics kilns operated at the local elementary schools were found to vent directly into the schools. This practice resulted in the release of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and ozone into the schools. As a result, the indoor air quality may have been degraded by the operation of these devices.

Middle School:

1. We noted the presence of a variety of hazardous chemicals in prepackaged laboratory instructional aids which posed a hidden hazard. The contents of these kits were often overlooked or forgotten by the staff. A review of these materials indicated that many of these materials and the hazards associated with the materials were poorly identified (sample labeling: solution A, toxic, do not consume). Frequently, these kits did not contain material safety data sheets to identify health and safety concerns or treatment measures should someone ingest or absorb the material. In addition, during our research we found containers of concentrated corrosives and confirmed human carcinogens in kits purchased for use by the students. We also noted that the older the kit, the greater the likelihood that the chemical contents were toxic and poorly identified.

2. While reviewing the chemical inventory, we noted that initially the bulk of the chemical inventory maintained by the science department was stored unsecured in the classrooms. In addition, these materials were not stored in approved chemical storage cabinets. As a result, the materials may have been subject to tampering and theft. Furthermore, this method of storage did not provide adequate fire protection for the chemical inventory and could have posed a health and safety hazard for the local emergency responders.

3. A review of the contents of the chemical inventory indicated that inappropriate types or quantities of hazardous materials were maintained at the middle school. These materials either posed inappropriate health hazardous (e.g. carcinogens) or the volumes present represented excessive quantities (pounds of water reactive sodium) based on the current rate of usage.

4. The ceramics kiln operated at the middle school was found to vent directly into the school. This practice resulted in the release of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and ozone into the school. As a result, the indoor air quality may have been degraded by the operation of this device.

5. A review of the classrooms used for the instruction of science determined that many of the rooms had not been provided with safety and personnel protective equipment. Few of the classrooms had been equipped with emergency eye washes or safety glasses.

6. The design and construction of the science classroom facilities limit what activities may be conducted. Specifically, none of the rooms had been constructed with a chemical fume hood. The lack of mechanical ventilation severely limited the type of activities and procedures that could be safely conducted in the school without adversely impacting indoor air quality.

High School:

Science Department

1. A survey of this area found that chemicals were routinely stored in the classrooms. Each room averaged more than 100 chemical containers. These materials were stored unsecured on shelves and in cabinets and drawers. Frequently, these containers were not stored or arranged in an organized manner. As a result, the materials were subject to theft and tampering. In addition, this practice posed a significant health and safety hazard to the local emergency responders due to the lack of fire protection and the joint storage of incompatible materials.

2. A review of the inventory detected a large number and volume of highly toxic or reactive materials (explosives, peroxide formers (shock sensitive explosives) , water reactives, and radioactives). During our research, we found that most of these items could be eliminated or replaced by less hazardous alternatives as a means to promote occupational safety.

3. A survey of the science area indicated the majority of the classrooms and laboratories were not initially equipped with chemical fume hoods, emergency eye wash units, deluge showers, safety glasses or protective gloves. The lack of these protective devices created limits in terms of what activities could safely be conducted in these rooms.

4. A review of the curriculum determined that a number of the routine experiments and procedures utilized by the science staff could impact the health and safety of the faculty and students. Initially, common laboratory procedures routinely involved the use of a variety of carcinogenic, and flammable volatile organic solvents. These activities were often conducted without the use of personnel protective equipment and in settings that lacked mechanical ventilation.

5. Another concern noted was that the staff had limited training and understanding of the health and safety concerns associated with the experimental procedures commonly utilized by the department. As a result, we had to provide the staff with additional training so that they could assist with identifying and resolving health and safety concerns within the department.

6. A number of the procedures and experiments used by the department were found to pose a potential risk to the indoor air quality. The following activities were identified as likely to adversely impact indoor air quality: a) the storage and use of biological specimen, b) the heating of experiments and reagents, and c) the storage and use of volatile materials and aerosols.

7. The handling, repair and disposal laboratory equipment and devices may create a variety of environmental, and health and safety issues. We have found these items to contain a collection of hazardous components requiring special care or management as part of routine maintenance or prior to disposal. Examples of potentially hazardous components include: ballast's or capacitors containing polychlorinated biphenyl's, mercury switches, batteries, and hydraulic fluid.

8. The Burlington Science Center maintains a small zoo at the high school. As a result, the housing of animals inside the building may allow allergens to be released into the school. The generation and release of allergens by the animals may degrade the local air quality and trigger an allergenic response in the effected population.

Art Department

1. The ceramics kilns operated at the high school were found to vent directly into the school. This practice resulted in the release of carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, metal fumes, and ozone into the school. As a result, the indoor air quality may have been degraded by the operation of these devices.

2. Historically, the high school ceramics program has mixed and prepared its own clay and glazes using a variety of powdered clays, firing additives and heavy metal powders. These activities have resulted in the generation of hazardous dusts containing free silica and toxic heavy metals that have impacted local indoor air quality.

3. The use of various aerosols by the art department without adequate ventilation has on occasion been found to be the source of irritating nuisance odors in the school. As a result, the indoor air quality may have been adversely impacted by these activities.

4. Another indoor air quality and comfort concern has been noted in association with the computer graphics lab operated by the art department. The operation and maintenance of a large amount of computer equipment in a small poorly ventilated room may have promoted the generation and accumulation of ozone and volatile organic compounds in this area. In addition, the heat generated by this equipment caused the temperature to frequently rise to uncomfortable levels in this area while also promoting a decline in the relative humidity. These conditions could irritate mucus membranes and make the occupants more sensitive to indoor air contaminants released by the equipment.

5. In addition, we also noted a lack of safety equipment for use by ceramics and sculpting program. These areas had not been equipped with safety glasses, emergency eye wash units or protective gloves for staff or student use.

Facilities Maintenance

1. The primary concern has been the warehousing of maintenance materials without regard to chemical compatibility. This practice has proven to be and continues to be serious hazardous materials management concern should a fire occur.

2. The use of flammable and volatile products by the maintenance staff has posed a variety of indoor air quality and fire safety concerns at all local schools.

3. Improper asbestos management and abatement has also been found to be a significant concern. Asbestos abatement conducted by the maintenance staff has resulted in the contamination of at least one local school and may have placed the staff and students at risk. Proper asbestos management will remain a long-term issue due to the prevalence of asbestos containing material in the local schools. School renovation combined with additional utility installation and improvement will cause asbestos management to become increasingly problematic.

Resources:

In this section, I have attempted to provide a brief listing of the major concerns and issues we have noted during our evaluation of the local school system. A more detailed accounting of the investigation and resolution of these issues may be found within the individual sections of the case study.

prepared by Todd H. Dresser, Environmental Engineer
(formerly of)
Burlington Board of Health, 29 Center Street, Burlington, MA 01803


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