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Appendix A: Model Program for the State School Environmental Health Guidelines

Table of Contents

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What is a School Environmental Health Program?

A school environmental health program is a holistic, comprehensive, and actionable strategy that integrates preventive measures and addresses environmental health issues by fostering well-maintained school buildings and grounds. Sustainable school environmental health programs promote environments that are conducive to learning and protect the health of building occupants. In addition to improving the school's physical environment and minimizing potential health risks, school environmental health programs help local communities, schools, and school districts make healthy, safe, and cost-effective choices that address each school's environmental health priorities. Some of the benefits to schools and school districts include:

  • Improvements in children's health;
  • Decreased rates of absenteeism for children and teachers;
  • Stronger student academic performance and participation in the classroom;
  • Greater teacher retention and job satisfaction; and
  • Cost savings through energy and water conservation and efficiency, and improved facility maintenance.
 

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States are encouraged to utilize their existing laws, regulations, and policies—in conjunction with the information provided in this model—to provide schools with a customized resource to help create healthy school environments for children and staff. Although no single program model must be followed in establishing a school environmental health program, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools program framework and technical solutions have been widely adopted by schools and school districts over the past 15 years. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) 2006 School Health Policies and Programs Study (4pp, 142K) estimated that more than half of all schools have an indoor air quality program in place and more than 85% base their program on the IAQ Tools for Schools model.

For the tens of thousands of schools familiar with the IAQ Tools for Schools framework and technical solutions, IAQ Tools for Schools is a logical platform from which many school environmental health issues can be tackled. EPA encourages states, schools, and school districts to use the IAQ Tools for Schools framework and the model program that follows to identify actions and resources that might be of use to schools for building or further strengthening their school environmental health programs.

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The Framework for Effective School IAQ Management: SIX KEY DRIVERS

Six key drivers of the EPA Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools framework. The Key Drivers are the essential functions of effective and enduring indoor air quality management programs: Organize, Communicate, Assess, Plan, Act, and Evaluate.

The following model program provides guidance for schools and school districts that are beginning to develop, or are strengthening, a school environmental health program, including the key steps for implementing a program and practical actions that schools can take to address a wide range of environmental issues. The model program groups these environmental issues into five broad components:

  • Practice Effective Cleaning and Maintenance,
  • Prevent Mold and Moisture,
  • Reduce Chemical and Environmental Contaminant Hazards,
  • Ensure Good Ventilation, and
  • Prevent Pests and Reduce Pesticide Use.

The model program also includes examples of how schools have approached environmental health issues and links to other valuable resources to help schools develop comprehensive school environmental health programs.

School environmental health programs should be dynamic and need to evolve as schools and school districts identify new priorities, set new goals, and balance existing resources. This model program can be modified to meet the changing needs of a school or school district, and should be updated to reflect a school or school district's current priorities, goals, and resources.

The Important Role of State Policy in School Environmental Health Programs

Students in LineState policy development and implementation plays a critical role in promoting healthy school environments. A number of states have regulations, policies, and guidance that address key environmental health issues in schools, including green cleaning, chemical management, indoor air quality, and integrated pest management. The existing policies, regulations, and guidance can help schools and school districts take the necessary steps to improve environmental conditions in schools by establishing a benchmark or standard to which all schools should or must comply.

This model program is intended to be a resource for states to provide to schools and school districts to help them address environmental health issues. States are encouraged to customize the model program to reflect existing regulations, policies, and guidance that promote school environmental health; emergency management protocols, procedures, and points of contact; and existing resources that can help schools and school districts develop and sustain their own environmental health programs and activities. States are also encouraged to use the model program as a resource for considering new regulations, policies, and guidance that might be helpful in promoting healthy school environments.

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Getting Started: Tips for Successful Program Development and Implementation

Effective school environmental health programs are built through collaboration among all members of the school community. A successful and well-coordinated school environmental health program is characterized by school administrators, teachers, staff, facility managers, and students who view health protection and promotion as an essential part of meeting the school's mission. The most successful school environmental health programs will use an ongoing process to develop, implement, and evaluate policies, procedures, and practices that strive for continuous improvement. Before a school develops its environmental health program, it will need to build an infrastructure that will support and sustain the program. The following steps are essential for a school or school district preparing to implement a school environmental health program.

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Secure Leadership Support

The first step to implementing a school environmental health program should be securing support from senior leadership of the school or school district (e.g., district superintendent, school principal, or school board). School administrators can support the program in many ways, including:

  • Incorporating environmental health in the school's or school district's vision and mission statements;
  • Allocating resources specifically for program policies, procedures, and practices; and
  • Communicating the goals of the program to the school community.

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Establish a District or School Environmental Health Team or Committee

More than 70% of school districts and more than one-third of schools have a school health council, team, or committee that offers guidance on the development of policies or coordinated health activities. To promote a healthy school environment, schools and school districts are encouraged to work with an existing council, team, or committee to form an environmental health team or committee that can help develop and implement a school environmental health program, and serve as a resource for parents and the surrounding community. Members should include administrators, teachers, school nurses or other health services staff, and facility managers. At least one person on the team or committee should have experience in emergency management. The environmental health team or committee would also benefit from including students, parents, the state or local coordinated school health representative, and community agencies and organizations (e.g., local health jurisdictions and colleges and universities). Team or committee members should understand their roles in promoting healthy school environments and be able to communicate this information when questions or concerns about the school environment are raised. The team or committee should develop a communication plan that emphasizes timely and transparent communication with the public and within the school and school district to sustain support from school administrators, school staff, parents, and other community members for environmental health activities.

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Identify Priorities and Goals

Identifying areas of greatest concern/interest for each school and developing a list of priorities are important tasks for the environmental health team or committee. Setting priorities will depend on several factors:

  • Urgency of the environmental health issues present at the school;
  • Impact/benefit of addressing the issue;
  • Ability to make significant progress within a set timeframe;
  • Resource constraints; and
  • Stakeholder support.

The environmental health priorities identified by the environmental health team or committee can be used as a guide to develop a list of program goals that are clear, measureable, and can be reasonably accomplished within a specified timeframe. Examples of general goals include:

  • Improve indoor air quality by adopting EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools program;
  • Reduce classroom chemical hazards by removing dangerous chemicals, adopting green chemistry curricula, and purchasing only the amounts of chemicals needed;
  • Ensure safe drinking water by testing for lead at all drinking water taps and taking mitigation steps when lead concentrations exceed recommended health-based benchmarks;
  • Reduce unnecessary idling by adopting an anti-idling policy for school buses, passenger vehicles, and delivery trucks; and
  • Reduce pest problems and exposure to pesticides by adopting integrated pest management practices.

It is imperative that all individuals involved in the school environmental health program understand the program goals.

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Develop an Action Plan

School or school district priorities and goals should be captured in an action plan that program participants can refer to on a regular basis. In addition to priorities and goals, the action plan should identify:

  • The roles, responsibilities, and expectations for program participants;
  • Methods for implementing program components (e.g., policies, procedures, practices, and regulations);
  • Available resources for program implementation and how the resources will be allocated;
  • A timeframe for program implementation; and
  • Performance measures for evaluating program success.

A copy of the action plan should be kept in a centrally located place where program participants can easily access it. The plan should be considered a "living document" and be updated regularly to reflect shifting priorities and resources; current policies, practices, and procedures; and changing roles and responsibilities.

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Provide Faculty and Staff Training

Providing training opportunities to school or school district faculty and staff prior to program implementation is crucial for future success. Training can come from a partnership between governmental and non-governmental organizations, from successful peer trainers, or from a trainer with expertise in school environmental health. Trainers should be able to speak from experience and communicate effectively with the audience being trained. Training can be provided in conjunction with other mandatory or recommended training (e.g., Occupational Safety and Health Administration's 1910.1200 Hazard Communication training or state equivalent). Initial training topics should be tailored to a school or school district's areas of greatest need, and could focus on:

  • The purpose of a school environmental health program;
  • The components of the program being implemented at the school or school district;
  • How the school is complying with federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations;
  • The benefits for students, faculty, and school staff; and
  • The policies and procedures currently in place that support the program.

In addition to initial training, school or school district faculty and staff should be encouraged to pursue professional development opportunities that relate to school environmental health issues. Further information on training can be found in the Faculty and Staff Training section.

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Encourage Student Involvement

The ultimate goal of a school environmental health program is to create safe, healthy, and productive learning environments for children. Enabling student participation throughout program implementation affords students a sense of ownership and accountability in the ultimate success of the program, and provides an opportunity for unique learning experiences. Student involvement can come in many forms, including:

  • Adopting environmental health curricula in relevant courses (e.g., science and health);
  • Encouraging high school seniors to incorporate school environmental health topics into senior projects;
  • Establishing an environmental/environmental health club or a related student-led group;
  • Offering extra-curricular activities that relate to the environment and environmental health;
  • Providing opportunities for students to run public service campaigns (e.g., asthma awareness and idling reduction campaigns); and
  • Offering volunteer opportunities at the school or in the community that promote environmental stewardship.

Further information on incorporating environmental health in lessons and classroom activities can be found in the Student Curricula section.

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Promote Program Success

SchoolbusesCommunicating program success is important for schools and school districts to maintain, and even increase, support for a school environmental health program. Consider using one or more of the following methods to promote program progress and success:

  • Write a success story for the school newsletter or school newspaper.
  • Give a presentation at a school board or parent-teacher organization meeting.
  • Submit a story for print in the community newspaper.
  • Have a booth at a community event highlighting the program and its accomplishments.
  • Present an award to school faculty and staff who have contributed to the program's success.
  • Apply for national and state awards (e.g., U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Recognition Award).

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How to Use the Model Program

ClipboardThe following model K-12 school environmental health program was developed as a tool for schools and school districts to use in planning specific actions they can take to implement their own school environmental health program. Whether a school or school district is in the planning stages of implementing its first school environmental health program or has a successful program in place, the model program has information and resources to support their efforts.

The model program consists of four sections:

  • Five Key Components of a School Environmental Health Program: This section discusses five key components of a sustainable school environmental health program and recommends actions schools and school districts can take to address each component in their program. Schools can use the environmental health priorities that are identified in the program planning process to determine which actions best apply to their situation. Each component offers three tiers of actions a school or school district can take to build a school environmental health program.

    It is not uncommon for individual environmental health issues to be addressed through actions under several of the components. Schools should complete the actions that best align with and address their program priorities, and need not tackle all issues at once. Schools and school districts often will find that by taking actions under one component (e.g., Practice Effective Cleaning and Maintenance) they will also be addressing issues relevant to other components (e.g., Prevent Pests and Reduce Pesticide Exposure).
  • Additional Opportunities for Promoting Environmental Health in School Facilities: This section presents general information that schools and school districts can use as they plan for and undertake major construction and renovation projects. This section also includes recommendations for improving classroom comfort (e.g., lighting, acoustics, ventilation, and temperature control) and becoming more energy- and water-efficient.
  • Faculty and Staff Training: This section presents information on training for faculty and school staff that addresses the key components of a school environmental health program, their roles and responsibilities in the program, and how to make the program sustainable. Training opportunities should be provided in advance of program implementation and address all aspects of the school environmental health program, not just the areas in which the faculty and school staff have expertise and experience.
  • Student Curricula: This section offers creative ways to incorporate environmental health into lesson plans and classroom activities to engage students in environmental health issues and to show how these issues affect them.

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Five Key Components of a School Environmental Health Program

This section describes the five key components of a school environmental health program; how each component contributes to creating healthy learning environments for children and staff; and introduces some of the actions that schools and school districts can take to implement a school environmental health program.

The components are presented in a three-tiered structure to demonstrate how every school, even those with little or no additional resources, can take some actions to improve school environmental health, and ensure that children and staff have healthier places to learn, work, and play.

  • Tier 1 actions are fixes schools can make immediately, and are a good starting point for schools with little or no previous experience with environmental health programs.
  • Tier 2 actions are essential components of a comprehensive school environmental health program.
  • Tier 3 actions are provided for schools that have established a comprehensive school environmental health program and are looking for ways to enhance their pre-existing program.

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The Five Key Components

Effective Cleaning IconPractice Effective Cleaning and Maintenance;

Mold and Moisture IconPrevent Mold and Moisture;

Contaminant IconReduce Chemical and Environmental Contaminant Hazards;

Ventilation IconEnsure Good Ventilation; and

Pests IconPrevent Pests and Reduce Pesticide Exposure

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Effective Cleaning Icon

 

Component 1: Practice Effective Cleaning and Maintenance


Why Is This Important?

School environments are healthier when they are kept clean and well maintained. Unsanitary conditions attract insects and vermin, and irritants and allergens found in dust and dirt can have a negative impact on student health and performance in schools. Indoor air pollutants and allergens related to poor cleaning practices contribute to increased respiratory and asthma symptoms among children and adults.1 According to the CDC, asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism, resulting in nearly 14 million missed school days annually nationwide.2 Regular and thorough cleaning and building maintenance can prevent pest problems, minimize irritants and allergens, and create healthier learning and working environments for children and staff.

Choosing the right cleaning products and practices is critical for maintaining a healthy school environment and protecting the health of children and staff. The chemicals found in some cleaning products can cause health problems, including eye, nose, and throat irritation and headaches, and in some cases can trigger asthma attacks. Using green cleaning products and practices can help to avoid these health effects, improve indoor air quality, and increase the lifespan of facilities.

Maintaining the school facility is just as important as routine cleaning to ensure a healthy environment for children and staff. A regular inspection program can identify problems before they impact the school environment and the occupants' health. School building maintenance protocols should address the entire building infrastructure: the foundation, exterior and interior walls, windows and doors, and roofing.3

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Actions Schools Can Take to Practice Effective Cleaning and Maintenance

Review Existing State Policy

Many states have implemented policies to promote healthy school environments. Refer to and follow your state's relevant environmental health policies and emergency management protocols when conducting cleaning and maintenance activities. (States may insert relevant environmental health policies and emergency management protocols here.)

Tier 1: Simple Steps Schools Can Take to Get Started

The best way to launch a school environmental health program is to identify fixes and solutions that can be implemented immediately. Schools should start by asking questions like, where are the school's areas of greatest need and what resources are available to address those needs? The answers to these questions will help schools decide where to focus their initial efforts.

Review the school's current cleaning and maintenance practices and verify the following actions are routinely taken:

  • For cleaning:
    • Schedule routine cleaning when the building is unoccupied.
    • Read and follow product labels.
    • Use only the amount of product suggested on the label.
    • Use proper equipment to perform cleaning tasks.
    • Ensure cleaning products are inaccessible to students.
    • Maintain an up-to-date inventory of all cleaning products used.
    • Keep copies of Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for all cleaning products in an accessible location.
    • Clean and remove dust from hard, impermeable surfaces with a water-dampened cloth.
    • Wipe up paint chips with a wet sponge or rag.
    • Vacuum using high-efficiency vacuums and filters (e.g., high efficiency particulate air filters).
    • Ensure garbage is stored in appropriate containers and disposed of properly at the end of each day.
    • Purchase and use walk-off mats at building entrances to reduce the amount of dust and soil tracked into school buildings.
    • Conduct thorough cleaning of kitchens, cafeterias, and other food use areas.
    • Reduce clutter, such as excess paper or plush toys, which collect dust and allergens and prevent thorough cleaning.
  • For maintenance:
    • Caulk all windows and door frames, and seal any joints.
    • Monitor the interior of the roof for water damage.
    • Inspect windows and doors for physical damage and improper seals.
    • Ensure all windows and doors are functioning properly.
    • Check weather-stripping and replace as needed.
    • Inspect the foundation for cracks, decay, and water infiltration.
    • Inspect exterior plywood for cracks, decay, and water damage.
    • Cut back overgrown vegetation near exterior walls.
    • Inspect ceilings and duct work for deteriorating tiles and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) lining, as well as loose insulation.
Tier 2: Key Elements for a Comprehensive School Environmental Health Program

Students at DeskSchools that have completed most of the actions listed under Tier 1 will be prepared to implement the key elements necessary for a more comprehensive school environmental health program.

  • Establish a green cleaning and preventive maintenance plan for your school.
    • Involve teachers, administrators, purchasing officials, and custodians in designing and implementing the plan.
    • Select cleaning products with positive environmental attributes (i.e., low or no volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions, no potential carcinogens) recognized by third-party eco-certification programs, including EPA's Design for the Environment, Green Seal and Ecologo . Further information on selecting green cleaning products can be found in Appendix C: Additional Information and Resources.
    • When purchasing neutral cleaners, glass cleaners, bathroom cleaners, and disinfectants, consider products that have high dilution rates, are designed to reduce waste, and have lower end-use costs.
    • Avoid using cleaning products containing fragrances that might trigger asthma symptoms, or those with strong odors.
    • Involve facilities and custodial staff in the selection and testing of cleaning products.
    • Educate facilities and custodial staff on the attributes and health benefits of greener products to encourage adoption and sustained use.
    • Incorporate green cleaning concepts and practices into your preventive maintenance plan. For example:
      • Spray cleaning cloths with product rather than the surface to be cleaned;
      • Use microfiber cleaning cloths and other tools to minimize the amount of cleaning products used; and
      • Purchase products as concentrates and dilute on site.
  • Train facilities and custodial staff on cleaning practices and policies, as well as procedures for handling a chemical spill.
  • Conduct an inventory of cleaning products. Identify and properly dispose of products that are outdated, unknown, or not needed.
  • Maintain a standardized list of approved and disapproved cleaning products at the school district level. Such a list will ensure all schools in the district use the same cleaning products and techniques and are cleaned to the same standard.
    • Prohibit teachers and school staff from bringing in cleaning chemicals and products that have not been approved for district and school building use.
  • Annually assess and remove items that are stored in schools and are no longer needed. Such items could include old lesson plans and materials, outdated or unneeded school supplies, and outdated or worn electronic equipment and furniture.
  • Use EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit checklists to assist with routine school building inspections and maintenance.
  • Schedule an annual inspection of the school facilities by a building professional.
  • Inspect roofs at least twice a year, including a pre-winter inspection in October or November.
  • Maintain accurate records of roof and building inspections.
Tier 3: Enhance a School's Pre-Existing Program

Child DrawingSchools that have taken steps to implement a comprehensive school environmental health program can build on their pre-existing programs by considering the following actions:

  • Develop and record measures specific to the school that will demonstrate improvement in adopting healthier cleaning and maintenance practices. For example:
    • Number of green cleaning products piloted;
    • Number of training workshops held and number of participants;
    • Pounds of toxic chemicals avoided by switching to more environmentally friendly, less toxic cleaning products; and
    • Number of nurse visits due to symptoms associated with exposure to cleaning products (e.g., eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, and asthma attacks).a
  • Consider purchasing building materials that easily can be cleaned and maintained with the same cleaning products used throughout the school building.
  • Incorporate information and updates on healthier cleaning into newsletters, school announcements, and other outreach material.

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Mold and Moisture Icon

 

Component 2: Prevent Mold and Moisture


Why Is This Important?

The key to mold control is moisture control. Keeping the school environment dry is essential for maintaining a healthy school building, as well as promoting an environment conducive to learning and working. The presence of moisture within building structures stimulates the growth of molds and other biological contaminants, and damp schools provide a nurturing environment for mites, roaches, and rodents, which are associated with asthma, allergies, and other respiratory diseases. Moisture and mold can also damage building infrastructure and result in costly renovations. Individual school districts have incurred costs from $200,000 to as much as $13 million for remediating mold and mildew damage.4,5,6,7,8 A few hundred dollars of annual preventive maintenance can avoid the need for costly mold remediation, as well as the potential legal liability posed by the presence of mold and mildew and its health risk for children and staff.4

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Actions Schools Can Take to Prevent Mold and Moisture

Review Existing State Policy

Many states have implemented policies to promote healthy school environments. Refer to and follow your state's relevant environmental health policies and emergency management protocols when conducting preventive mold and moisture activities. (States may insert relevant environmental health policies and emergency management protocols here.)

Tier 1: Simple Steps Schools Can Take to Get Started

The best way to launch a school environmental health program is to identify fixes and solutions that can be implemented immediately. Schools should start by asking questions like, where are the school's areas of greatest need and what resources are available to address those needs? The answers to these questions will help schools decide where to focus their initial efforts.

Conduct an initial inspection of the school environment. Identify immediate actions that can be taken for:

  • Preventing moisture/mold in schools
    • Conduct routine moisture inspections to ensure the school building is free of moisture problems, water damage, and visible mold on all interior surfaces.
    • Fix leaking plumbing and leaks in the school building and roof as soon as possible.
    • Watch for condensation and wet spots. Address sources of moisture problems promptly.
    • Dry wet areas within 24–48 hours.
    • Vent moisture-generating appliances (e.g., dryers) to the outside.
    • Ensure carpeting is not installed in areas with exposed plumbing.
    • Maintaining gutters, downspouts, scuppers, and storm drains
    • Downspouts, scuppers, and storm drains should be intact and properly connected.
    • Downspouts should drain to the storm sewer or a visibly sloped grade away from the school building.
    • Downspouts, scuppers, and storm drains should have no evidence of stormwater overflow or obstruction.
    • Gutters, downspouts, scuppers, and storm drains should be free of excessive debris.
    • Gutters and roofs should have no standing water.
    • Consult EPA's Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings website for mold cleanup guidance and procedures.

Tier 2: Key Elements for a Comprehensive School Environmental Health Program

School HallwaySchools that have completed most of the actions listed under Tier 1 will be prepared to implement the key elements necessary for a more comprehensive school environmental health program.

  • Preventing moisture/mold in schools
    • Establish a mold prevention and remediation plan.
    • Ensure ventilation systems are circulating the indoor air properly. See Component 4: Ensure Good Ventilation for more information.
    • Maintain indoor humidity levels between 30% and 60%.
    • Ensure indoor pool facilities are well ventilated to control humidity levels.
    • Clean carpets with extraction cleaners to remove water and prevent mold growth.
    • Take steps to prevent water from ponding within 10 feet of the school building foundation (e.g., irrigation water spray lines should not be within 3 feet of the school building's foundation).
    • Know what steps to take in the event of a flood. EPA's Flood Cleanup website has information on cleaning up after a flood and how to prevent mold and moisture problems.

Tier 3: Enhance a School's Pre-Existing Program

Schools that have taken steps to implement a comprehensive school environmental health program can build on their pre-existing programs by considering the following actions:

  • Develop and record measures specific to the school that will demonstrate improvement in adopting effective moisture management techniques. Examples include:
    • Reduction in the number of mold findings within the school facilities.
    • Reduction in the number of cleaning/remediation events due to mold growth.
  • Purchase furniture and carpeting made from mold-resistant materials when replacing worn or damaged items.
  • Install vents to the outside for all areas in the school building that use large quantities of water (e.g., kitchens, bathrooms, locker rooms, and pool facilities).
  • Integrate information on mold into the student curricula.
  • Incorporate information and updates on mold and moisture management into newsletters, school announcements, and other outreach material.

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Contaminant Icon

 

Component 3: Reduce Chemical and Environmental Contaminant Hazards

Why Is This Important?

Schools need to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for children by preventing exposure to chemicals and environmental contaminants that pose health risks to them and the environment. Children spend a significant portion of their time in school and might be more vulnerable to chemical and environmental contaminant hazards than adults because:

  • Their bodily systems are still developing;
  • They eat more, drink more, and breathe more in proportion to their body size than adults; and
  • Their behaviors can significantly increase their exposures to chemicals and potentially harmful organisms.

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Chemicals and Chemical-containing Products

Schools use chemicals in classrooms, science laboratories, art studios, vocational education shops, and facility maintenance. Many of these chemicals are toxic to humans, animals, and the environment and should be purchased, used, handled, and disposed of in a manner that protects students and school staff from accidents and risk of exposure. Toxic chemicals can cause serious health effects, including cancer; brain and nervous system disorders; organ damage (i.e., liver, kidneys, and lungs); irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, and throat; and asthma attacks.12

For example, mercury is a known neurotoxicant and is used in many items found throughout schools, such as thermometers, barometers, switches, thermostats, fluorescent lamps, and laboratory reagents. The most common form of mercury found in schools is elemental mercury, and exposure primarily occurs when elemental mercury is spilled or when a product containing elemental mercury breaks and the mercury is exposed to the air. Symptoms of elemental mercury exposure include tremors, irritability, mood swings, insomnia, muscle weakness or atrophy, headaches, and performance deficits on tests of cognitive function.13 Higher exposures to elemental mercury can result in kidney effects, respiratory failure, and death.13

Another group of chemicals of concern for schools are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs are found in a variety of building products, including fluorescent light ballasts, which were installed in schools built before 1979. Congress banned the manufacturing and use of PCBs in 1976 and EPA phased out their use, with some exceptions, in 1979. Many of the fluorescent light ballasts that were installed before the ban, however, could contain PCBs and might still be used in schools. PCBs are highly toxic and high levels of exposure might cause cancer and neurodevelopmental effects in humans. Although intact PCB-containing light ballasts might not pose an immediate health threat, failing or leaking fluorescent light ballasts in schools could result in unsafe levels of PCBs in the air children breathe over the long-term.

Lead-based paint is an additional concern for schools, especially those built prior to 1978. Lead exposure affects the nervous system and can cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust are the main sources of lead exposure in U.S. children. Intact lead-based paint might not pose a hazard, but paint that flakes or becomes dust could result in unsafe levels of this dangerous chemical in the school environment.

Radon

Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in almost all soil and rock. Radon is found in outdoor air and can enter schools through cracks or other openings in the foundation. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.14Although there is no evidence that children are at greater risk of lung cancer from radon exposure than adults, EPA recommends that schools test frequently occupied rooms at or below ground level for radon.

Drinking Water

Child drinking from water fountainEnsuring safe drinking water in schools is important because children and staff might consume a significant amount of their daily water intake in schools.15 Aging, leaded plumbing systems and leaking pipes can lead to contamination of a school's drinking water supply. Improperly maintained water systems can also harm the environment and have financial implications (e.g., higher water bills). Leaking pipes lead to water loss, which can promote mold growth and be very costly for a school to remediate.15

Outdoor Air Pollution

Schools should carefully consider the potential health threats due to outdoor air pollution when planning outdoor activities for children and when establishing school transportation policies.

Diesel Emissions

Bus and truck idling at schools can produce concentrated diesel exhaust emissions both inside and outside school buildings. Diesel exhaust contains fine particulate matter that, when inhaled, can cause lung damage and aggravate pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma.16 Diesel particulate matter has also been identified as a likely cause of cancer.16 The soot and gases emitted by diesel engines are associated with acute eye, throat, and bronchial irritation; exacerbation of asthma and allergies; and potential interference with lung development in children.16 In addition to impacting human health, diesel exhaust also harms the environment by contributing to smog formation and acid rain.

Ozone, Particle Pollution, and Air Toxics

Ground level ozone and particle pollution are the two air pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in the United States. Ozone, the primary component of smog, can cause throat irritation, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and aggravated asthma symptoms.17 Particle pollution, or particulate matter, can embed deep within the lungs and cause serious health problems, especially for those with respiratory conditions. Even healthy individuals can experience temporary symptoms from exposure to particle pollution, including irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing; phlegm; chest tightness; and shortness of breath.

Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), or air toxics, are pollutants that are known or suspected to cause cancer, respiratory effects, reproductive effects, and birth defects. The Clean Air Act lists 187 HAPs, 33 of which EPA has identified as posing the greatest threat to public health and the environment. Of those 33, 13 are mobile source air toxics, which are emitted from vehicles. Excessive idling by school buses, passenger vehicles, and delivery trucks can cause elevated levels of air toxics in and around the school.

Secondhand Smoke

Breathing secondhand smoke can be harmful to children's health. Children's exposure to secondhand smoke is responsible for increases in the number of asthma attacks and severity of symptoms in 200,000 to 1 million children with asthma, and respiratory tract infections resulting in 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations each year.18 The developing lungs of young children are severely affected by exposure to secondhand smoke for several reasons: Children are still developing physically; they have higher breathing rates than adults; and they have little control over their indoor environments. Children receiving high doses of secondhand smoke are at the greatest risk of experiencing damaging health effects.18

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Actions Schools Can Take to Reduce Chemical and Environmental Contaminant Hazards

Review Existing State Policy

Many states have implemented policies to promote healthy school environments. Refer to and follow your state's relevant environmental health policies and emergency management protocols when performing chemical and environmental contaminant management activities. (States may insert relevant environmental health policies and emergency management protocols here.)

Tier 1: Simple Steps Schools Can Take to Get Started

The best way to launch a school environmental health program is to identify fixes and solutions that can be implemented immediately. Schools should start by asking questions like, where are the school's areas of greatest need and what resources are available to address those needs? The answers to these questions will help schools decide where to focus their initial efforts.

Chemicals and Chemical-containing Products

  • Conduct a chemical inventory of the school, or locate and review an existing inventory.
    • Compare the chemical inventory to the school district's approved chemicals list, if available. Chemicals not on the school district's list should be marked for removal. King County, Washington's School Chemical List is another excellent resource to identify appropriate chemicals to use in schools, as is the Consumer Product Safety Commission/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health School Chemistry Laboratory Guide (86pp, 1.6M).
    • Update the school chemical inventory if it is more than a year old.
    • Ensure the school has up-to-date SDSs for all chemicals and chemical products.
  • Where applicable, perform screenings and inspections of chemical-containing equipment (e.g., PCB fluorescent lighting ballasts, mercury-containing items) to ensure the equipment is properly managed. Develop chemical equipment inventory lists, as needed.
    • Inspect the school's fluorescent light ballasts for leaking PCBs.
      • Ballasts manufactured through 1979 could contain PCBs, and ballasts manufactured between 1979 and 1998 that do not contain PCBs should be labeled, "No PCBs." If the light ballast does not contain this label, assume it has PCBs.
      • If a light ballast is found to be leaking PCBs, federal law requires the immediate removal and disposal of the light ballast and disposal of any PCB-contaminated materials at an EPA-approved facility.
      • Consult EPA's Proper Maintenance, Removal, and Disposal of PCB-Containing Fluorescent Light Ballasts website for more information on inspecting and replacing fluorescent light ballasts.
    • If the school was built before 1978, lead-based paint might be present on coated surfaces. If applicable, develop a list of rooms and areas that contain, or might contain, lead-based paint.
  • Visually inspect chemical storage areas. Are the chemicals:
    • Clearly labeled?
    • In undamaged containers?
    • Outdated?
    • In a designated storeroom or cabinet with operable locks?
    • Stored according to chemically compatible families?
    • Stored on appropriate shelving (e.g., shelving that is stable and not deteriorating)?
    • Appropriate for the grade level being taught? For specific recommendations, see King County, Washington's School Chemical List.
  • Review the school's mercury inventory list.
    • If the school does not have an up-to-date mercury inventory, identify and catalog all elemental mercury, mercury compounds, mercury solutions, and mercury-containing devices at the school.
    • Common mercury-containing items found in schools include thermometers, barometers, switches, thermostats, flow meters, lighting (linear fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps), and laboratory reagents.
  • Review the school's chemical hygiene plan.
    • Does the plan have a chemical spill control policy?
    • Does the plan include staff training requirements for chemical management, including purchasing, use, storage, and addressing spills?
    • Does the plan identify contact information for the local authorities responsible for managing chemical spills?
    • If the chemical hygiene plan does not address one or more of these topics or if a chemical hygiene plan does not exist, take steps to develop these policies and procedures. Local and state environment and health departments can be good places to start.
  • Review the school's hazard communication plan. The plan should contain the following information:
    • Contact information for the person responsible for implementing the plan;
    • Procedures for acquiring, maintaining, and providing access to SDSs;
    • An updated chemical inventory;
    • Provisions for employee training; and
    • Chemical labeling requirements.
  • Encourage teachers to use school and art supplies that do not contain toxic chemicals or other contaminants (e.g., lead), and develop a screening process or protocol for accepting donated supplies.
  • Ensure faculty and staff are aware of EPA's Academic Laboratories Rule, specifically to increase awareness of hazardous waste management and proper chemical disposal procedures.

Radon

  • Test frequently occupied rooms at or below ground level for radon. Radon levels should be lower than EPA's action level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) in air. Guidance for radon testing and mitigation can be found in Appendix G: Radon of the IAQ Reference Guide in the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit.

Drinking Water

  • Determine whether the school is a public water system (PWS). A PWS is a system that serves water to 25 or more of the same people more than 60 days per year, or a system that has 15 or more service connections. Most schools are usually part of a larger PWS but smaller schools in rural areas can be their own PWS.
    • If a school is a PWS, it must:
      • Comply with all primary drinking water regulations and applicable underground injection control requirements;
      • Notify students, staff, and parents if the system fails to meet primary drinking water standards;
      • Ensure that only lead-free pipes are used in either installation or for repairs; and
      • Comply with all state program requirements and EPA inspections.
    • If the school has its own water supply system, check with the system operator to ensure that the system is in compliance with drinking water regulations.
  • Review the school's files for plumbing surveys that identify areas of high risk for lead sources. If these records do not exist, or if significant plumbing modifications have been made since the last survey, conduct a plumbing survey as soon as possible. For help conducting a plumbing survey, see EPA's 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water (104pp, 2.5M) manual.
  • Maintain drinking water taps by routinely cleaning faucet aerators and disinfecting drinking water outlets and water fountains.
  • Compare the school's drinking fountains with those identified on EPA's list of known lead-containing models. Make note of any fountains that are on EPA's list and take them out of service.
  • Review the school's files on lead test results for drinking water taps. If testing records do not exist, or if testing has not been conducted within the past 5 years, collect and analyze samples from drinking water taps. EPA's Lead in Drinking Water website provides guidance on conducting lead testing in schools.
  • Lead concentrations at all drinking water taps should be below 20 parts per billion (ppb) for a 250-milliliter sample. This concentration applies only for schools whose water supply is provided by a municipal system (i.e., a PWS). For schools that have their own well or water source, lead concentrations at 10% of drinking water taps must be below the EPA action level of 15 ppb. These schools must test for lead and be below the lead action level to comply with the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.

Outdoor Air Pollution

  • Review the current school bus schedules. Are they designed to minimize bus idling? If not, work with the appropriate personnel to revise the bus schedules accordingly.
  • Identify the location of all school air handler intake vents. Ensure that intake vents are located away from high vehicular traffic areas (e.g., areas designated for student drop-off and pick-up) and chimneys for school heating systems. If intake vents cannot be moved, direct traffic away from the vent locations, relocate student drop-off and pick-up areas, or cone off the areas during high vehicular traffic times.
  • Keep classroom windows closed during periods of high vehicular traffic (e.g., before/after school and during rush hour if the school is located near a main street or highway), or on days when smog or pollen counts are high.
  • Implement an idling reduction campaign at the school to eliminate unnecessary vehicle idling.
  • Locate the school's procedures for responding to Air Quality Index advisories. If your school does not have procedures in place, or if the procedures are not up-to-date, take steps to develop or improve these procedures. For an example set of procedures, view those developed for the Northeast Independent School District (8pp, 645K) in San Antonio, Texas. Further information can be located in Appendix C: Additional Information and Resources.

Secondhand Smoke

  • Institute a smoke-free policy for the school campus.

Tier 2: Key Elements for a Comprehensive School Environmental Health Program

Schools that have completed most of the actions listed under Tier 1 will be prepared to implement the key elements necessary for a more comprehensive school environmental health program.

Chemicals and Chemical-containing Products

  • Form a chemical management team at the school.
    • Team members should have direct involvement with or knowledge of chemical management at the school, from the purchase of chemicals to their ultimate disposal.
  • Conduct annual chemical inventories to ensure all unused, unneeded, and unknown chemicals are identified and disposed of properly.
  • Develop a responsible chemical management program for the school or school district to ensure chemicals are stored, labeled, used, and disposed of properly. EPA's Safe Chemical Management in K-12 Schools Tool Kit has resources to help schools and school districts get started.
  • Institute a chemical purchasing policy at the school.
    • All chemicals and chemical-containing products should be reviewed and purchased through one person or a team responsible for vetting chemicals for excessively hazardous products (e.g., carcinogens, mutagens, and asthmagens).
    • Purchase no more than a 5-year supply of chemicals, and do not reorder until necessary to prevent accumulation.
    • Choose chemicals and chemical products using the safest possible ingredients. Consult EPA's Design for the Environment's list of products meeting their safer ingredient criteria.
    • Consult with state green procurement initiatives to determine if safer, third-party certified chemicals and chemical products are available on state contracts.
    • Prohibit teachers and school staff from bringing in chemicals, chemical products, and art supplies that are unauthorized or contain toxic ingredients.
    • Prohibit the purchase of mercury products.
  • Ensure teachers and staff receive chemical management training as mandated under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's laboratory safety standard.
  • Ensure students understand proper chemical management. For example:
    • Have students take a laboratory safety test before performing experiments in the classroom. The test should cover topics such as laboratory rules and regulations, as well as proper handling, storage, and disposal of chemicals and chemical products, especially those that pose specific hazards (i.e., corrosive, reactive, and flammable chemicals). Students that fail the test cannot work in the laboratory until they successfully pass the test.
    • Establish a formal three-way contract between students, parents, and teachers/administrators that establishes appropriate behavior when using chemicals.
  • Conduct a chemical cleanout.
      • Use the school's chemical inventory to identify unused, unneeded, degraded, and unknown chemicals.
      • Remove chemicals from the school with the help of a qualified and experienced professional. EPA's Safe Chemical Management in Schools Workbook provides guidance on procuring professional chemical removal assistance.
      • Ensure the following chemicals are removed from the art department: hexane- and toluene-based aerosols, ceramic glazes containing lead or cadmium, and all fluoride-based glass etchants.
      • Remove or replace all excess, outdated, and unneeded mercury-containing products with alternatives containing no mercury. Ensure mercury is recycled or disposed of in accordance with federal, state, and local regulations.

Radon

  • Track radon test results, assessment data, and pending actions so that facility maintenance personnel can plan accordingly.
  • Retest routinely if schools were mitigated to ensure radon mitigation systems are functioning properly.

Drinking Water

  • Test the school's drinking water for contaminants. Testing requirements and timing will differ depending on the number of people being served and where the school gets its water (groundwater vs. surface water).
    • If testing shows that contaminants have entered the system and their levels are above the regulatory minimum, the school will need to take action. For more information on contaminants and taking action, refer to EPA's website on current drinking water regulations.
    • Schools should have a plan for providing drinking water to students if testing uncovers contaminants in the school's drinking water supply.
  • If the school's drinking water lead concentrations exceed EPA's action level, take steps to develop a plan to reduce lead levels at all taps that do not meet the 20 ppb (municipal system)/15 ppb (well) standard. Plans might include:
    • Testing for lead on a regular basis;
    • Instituting a flushing program;
    • Clearing debris from outlet screens and aerators on a routine basis;
    • Replacing pipes, solder, and fixtures if they are known to be sources of lead; and
    • Disabling taps to prevent water consumption from that tap.
    • Schools should implement identified actions in the lead reduction plan according to priority and resources available. Further information to assist plan development and implementation can be found on EPA's Guidance and Tools for Drinking Water in Schools and Child Care Facilities website.
  • Develop a plan for, and conduct routine maintenance of, the school's drinking water infrastructure.
    • If the school acquires its drinking water from its own well, conduct source water assessments and identify any surrounding activities or sources that might have an adverse effect on water quality.
    • Inspect water pipes for leaks and corrosion. Leaking or corroded pipes can introduce contaminants into the drinking water system and contribute significantly to water loss and mold growth.
  • Replace drinking fountains identified on EPA's list of known lead-containing models with fountains that do not contain lead.
  • A school might or might not be connected to a public wastewater system. Schools with their own wastewater management system (e.g., septic system) will need to inspect and pump their system regularly to prevent back-ups into the school. See EPA's website on Wastewater Management for guidance and more information.

Outdoor Air Pollution

  • Implement an anti-idling policy for school buses, passenger vehicles, and delivery trucks, and post signs stating all vehicles are prohibited from idling on school premises.

Secondhand Smoke

  • Implement a smoking education program for students that covers the social and physiological consequences of tobacco use, information about social influences (e.g., peers, parents, and media), and training on how to manage peer pressure to smoke.

Tier 3: Enhance a School's Pre-Existing Program

Children around a tableSchools that have taken steps to implement a comprehensive school environmental health program can build on their pre-existing program(s) by considering the following:

Chemicals and Chemical-containing Products

Radon

  • Schedule re-testing following all major renovations, and consider how HVAC modifications or upgrades might affect radon intrusion.

Drinking Water

  • Develop and record measures specific to the school that will demonstrate improvement in drinking water quality.
  • Involve students in drinking water testing. A teacher or facility manager should ensure testing is completed according to established procedures to obtain meaningful results. This activity can be integrated into science and mathematics courses, as well as senior projects.

Outdoor Air Pollution

  • Have students observe vehicle idling behavior before and after implementing an anti-idling policy. Have students calculate exhaust emissions generated before and after an anti-idling policy is implemented using widely available web-based calculators.
  • If funding allows, retrofit your current school bus fleet with improved emission control technologies, or replace older school buses with newer, more fuel-efficient, and less-polluting buses. Visit EPA's National Clean Diesel Campaign website for more information.
  • Participate in the School Flag Program to help the school and its surrounding community know the daily air quality conditions. Schools in the flag program raise a brightly colored flag each day that corresponds to the air quality forecast. Based on the color of the flag (green, yellow, orange, or red), teachers and coaches can modify outdoor activities when the air quality is unhealthy.

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Ventilation Icon

 

Component 4: Ensure Good Ventilation


Why Is This Important?

Indoor air pollution has been demonstrated to have an adverse impact on public health. Poor indoor air quality can cause short- and long-term health problems such as coughing, eye irritation, headaches, asthma episodes, allergic reactions, and in rare cases, life-threatening conditions such as respiratory distress. Improperly managed ventilation and filtration systems can contribute to airborne mold, infectious diseases, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Poor indoor air quality can also impact the comfort and health of children and staff, which can in turn affect concentration, attendance, and classroom performance.

Good indoor air quality can help ensure a healthier and higher performance learning environment for students and school staff, and proper maintenance of ventilation and filtration equipment plays a big role in the quality of the indoor air. Adequate ventilation with outdoor air is a key component for good indoor air quality in schools and classrooms, and can contribute to mitigating the effects of radon and vapor intrusion. Furthermore, well-maintained air filtration systems capture and remove airborne particles that can be asthma triggers, allergens, and infectious or toxic to humans.

Indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air and large populations of children might be more susceptible to indoor pollutants than the general population. The high occupant densities of schools and classrooms makes it particularly important for building designers to incorporate ventilation systems that provide adequate outdoor air (in compliance with the industry's ventilation standard, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 62.1-2010 , control moisture, and minimize energy costs.

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Actions Schools Can Take to Ensure Good Ventilation

Review Existing State Policy

Many states have implemented policies to promote healthy school environments. Refer to and follow your state's relevant environmental health policies and emergency management protocols when conducting ventilation and filtration maintenance activities. (States may insert relevant environmental health policies and emergency management protocols here.)

Tier 1: Simple Steps Schools Can Take to Get Started

The best way to launch a school environmental health program is to identify fixes and solutions that can be implemented immediately. Schools should start by asking questions like, where are the school's areas of greatest need and what resources are available to address those needs? The answers to these questions will help schools decide where to focus their initial efforts.

Having a balanced HVAC system is crucial for regulating temperature and providing adequate ventilation. Conduct an initial inspection of the school's HVAC system and ensure the following actions are routinely taken:

  • Ensure the school building has a functioning ventilation system. The absence of ventilation can adversely impact classroom performance and overall occupant health.
  • Inspect the maintenance room for unsanitary conditions, leaks, and spills. Ensure the room is free of trash, chemical products, and supplies.
  • Establish and implement a regular schedule for inspecting and changing filters.
  • Ensure condensate pans are clean, unobstructed, and draining properly.
  • Establish and implement a regular cleaning schedule for air supply diffusers, return registers, and outside air intakes.
  • Check ground-level and roof intakes for pollutant sources (e.g., dumpsters, bus-idling areas, plumbing vents, and kitchen exhaust fans).
  • Ensure that ducts and the interior of air-handling units or unit ventilators are clean.
  • Keep unit ventilators clear of books, papers, and other items.
  • Ensure HVAC system settings fit the actual schedule of building use (including night and weekend use).
  • Educate teachers and school staff on the importance of keeping the HVAC system on to ensure classrooms are properly ventilated.
  • Use EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools program resources to identify, correct, and prevent indoor air quality problems. The IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit has been implemented in thousands of schools across the country.

Tier 2: Key Elements for a Comprehensive School Environmental Health Program

Schools that have completed most of the actions listed under Tier 1 will be prepared to implement the key elements necessary for a more comprehensive school environmental health program.

  • Continue to perform regular HVAC system inspections.
  • Establish a HVAC maintenance plan.
  • Install high efficiency filters, if not already in use.
  • Take steps to ensure all rooms in the school building are ventilated.
  • Ensure that air intakes are located away from high vehicular traffic areas, plumbing and exhaust stacks, and chimneys for the school's heating system.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors near combustion sources (e.g., boilers, stoves, hot water heaters, and vocational education shops) to monitor carbon monoxide levels.
  • Ensure outdoor air ventilation meets or exceeds the industry's ventilation standard (ASHRAE 62.1-2010 Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality) or local code.

Tier 3: Enhance a School's Pre-Existing Program

Schools that have taken steps to implement a comprehensive school environmental health program can build on their pre-existing program(s) by considering the following:

  • Apply new air ventilation, cleaning, and filtration technologies, as resources allow (e.g., MERV 13 air filters and gas filtration media).
  • Apply the ASHRAE 62.1-2010 IAQ Procedure. The IAQ Procedure is a performance-based design approach in which a building and its ventilation system are designed to maintain contaminant concentrations at specified levels.
  • The use of air cleaning devices, other than particle filtration employed in the HVAC system, is generally not required if appropriate attention to controlling and managing sources of pollution and providing adequate ventilation are addressed in the design process. For additional information on air cleaning devices see:
  • Develop and record measures specific to the school that will demonstrate improvement in HVAC system performance.
  • Engage students in classroom activities and projects that focus on indoor air quality
  • Incorporate information and updates on indoor air quality into newsletters, school announcements, and other outreach material.

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Pests Icon

 

Component 5: Prevent Pests and Reduce Pesticide Exposure


Why Is This Important?

Droppings or body parts from cockroaches, rodents, and other pests can trigger asthma and can cause allergic reactions. Pests also can transmit infectious diseases. Pesticides contain chemicals that can be toxic to humans and the environment and pose a risk to human health, especially when people do not follow directions on product labels or if they use products irresponsibly (e.g., using pesticides when they are not needed, using pesticides for other than their intended use, or not following recommended application rates). Children can be especially vulnerable to pesticides because their internal organs are still developing and maturing.

Integrated pest management is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that uses current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interactions with the environment, in combination with available pest control methods, to manage pests economically, and with the least possible risk to people, property, and the environment. Integrated pest management is a safer and sometimes less costly option for effective pest management in schools. Integrated pest management practices can effectively control pests in schools while reducing pesticide use by 70–90%.21 A school integrated pest management program uses common sense strategies to monitor and exclude pests while also reducing sources of food, water, and shelter for pests in school buildings and grounds. An integrated pest management program should focus on prevention of pest problems first, and take advantage of all pest management strategies, including the judicious and careful use of pesticides, when necessary. EPA's Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in Schools website and other state school integrated pest management program websites (e.g., California , Florida , New Jersey , Pennsylvania , Texas , and Washington ) are good resources for schools and school districts to use in developing a school integrated pest management program.

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Actions Schools Can Take to Prevent Pests and Reduce Pesticide Exposure

Review Existing State Policy

Many states have implemented policies to promote healthy school environments. Refer to and follow your state's relevant environmental health policies and emergency management protocols when conducting integrated pest management activities. (States may insert relevant environmental health policies and emergency management protocols here.)

Tier 1: Simple Steps Schools Can Take to Get Started

The best way to launch a school environmental health program is to identify fixes and solutions that can be implemented immediately. Schools should start by asking questions like, where are the school's areas of greatest need and what resources are available to address those needs? The answers to these questions will help schools decide where to focus their initial efforts.

Conduct an initial inspection of the school to identify potential pest problems. Identify immediate actions that can be taken for:

  • Entryways
    • Keep doors shut when not in use.
    • Place weather stripping on doors.
    • Caulk and seal openings in walls.
    • Install or repair screens.
    • Install air curtains.
    • Keep vegetation, shrubs, and wood mulch at least 1 foot away from the school building.
  • Classrooms and Offices
    • Immediately place garbage in a trash can with a lid that closes securely, and remove trash daily from the school building.
    • Allow food and beverages only in designated areas and store food in airtight containers.
    • Clean all food crumbs or spilled liquids immediately.
    • Wash dishes promptly after using them.
    • Keep counters, sinks, tables, and floors clean and clear of clutter and moisture.
    • Remove piles of boxes, newspapers, and other potential hiding places for pests.
    • Keep rooms as dry as possible by removing standing water and water-damaged or wet materials.
    • Frequently vacuum carpeted areas.
  • Food Preparation and Serving Areas
    • Store food and waste in containers that are inaccessible to pests.
    • Place screens on vents, windows, and floor drains to prevent pests from using unscreened ducts or vents as pathways.
    • Reduce the availability of food and water: remove food debris; clean all food crumbs or spilled liquids right away; fix dripping faucets and leaks; and dry out wet areas.
    • Clean food preparation equipment after use and remove grease accumulation from vents, ovens, and stoves.
    • Use caulk or paint to seal cracks and crevices.
  • Rooms and Areas with Extensive Plumbing
    • Repair leaks and correct other plumbing problems to deny pests access to water.
    • Clean floor drains, strainers, and grates.
    • Seal pipe chases.
    • Keep plumbing areas dry.
    • Store paper products or cardboard boxes away from moist areas and direct contact with the floor or the walls.
  • Maintenance Areas
    • Ensure mops and buckets are clean, dry, and stored appropriately.
    • Allow eating only in designated areas.
    • Immediately place garbage in a trash can with a lid that closes securely, and remove trash daily.
    • Keep areas clean and as dry as possible.

Tier 2: Key Elements for a Comprehensive School Environmental Health Program

Schools that have completed most of the actions listed under Tier 1 will be prepared to implement the key elements necessary for a more comprehensive school environmental health program.

  • Establish a school integrated pest management program. Key steps for implementing a successful integrated pest management program include:
    • Developing an official integrated pest management policy statement. This statement acts as a guide in developing a specific integrated pest management program and should cover pest identification, pesticide applications, and notification requirements (e.g., when and who to notify of pesticide application). Integrated pest management policy statements should be kept in a commonly accessible location. For an example of an integrated pest management policy, view the Los Angeles School District's Integrated Pest Management policy (7pp, 147K).
    • Designating pest management roles and responsibilities. Education and training in integrated pest management practices should be provided.
    • Setting specific pest management objectives for the school.
    • Requiring regular site inspections and trapping to determine the types and infestation levels of pests.
    • Setting action thresholds, or levels of pest populations/environmental conditions that require remedial action.
    • Monitoring pests and recording information in a pest sighting log. This log can be used to identify whether pests have exceeded pre-determined levels before applying pesticides.
    • Keeping written records of all aspects of the integrated pest management program (e.g., pest population and distribution, recommendations for future prevention, and complete information on treatment actions taken).
    • Evaluating the integrated pest management program to determine the success of the pest management strategies employed.
  • Once all integrated pest management strategies have been exhausted to control pests, use baits and traps before making a broad pesticide application.
  • Follow these guidelines before applying pesticides:
    • Use pesticides that present the least risk of exposure.
    • Choose caulk and crevice pesticide applications, bait stations, or targeted spraying.
    • Carefully follow instructions on the label and use only the amount suggested.
    • Store all pesticides in a secure area of the building.
    • Do not use outdoor sprays and chemicals indoors.
    • Dispose of leftover pesticides and pesticide containers properly.
    • Do not transfer pesticides to other containers.
    • Do not spray during school hours, except in emergencies.
  • When pest management services are necessary, the school should either contract with an integrated pest management certified professional or ensure that the facility management staff are licensed, trained, and able to implement integrated pest management practices as their state requires.
  • Do not allow experimental, phased out, or conditional-use pesticides and pesticide products to be used in school buildings and on school grounds. Do not allow teachers and school staff to bring pesticide products from home.
  • Maintain records on pest management activities, including pesticide application date(s), location(s), and rate(s); copies of pesticide labels; SDSs; and notifications issued.

Tier 3: Enhance a School's Pre-Existing Program

Schoolchildren at tablesSchools that have taken steps to implement a comprehensive school environmental health program can build on their pre-existing program by considering the following:

  • Expand the school's integrated pest management program to address outdoor areas including playgrounds, parking lots, athletic fields, loading docks, and trash dumpsters.
  • Develop and record measures specific to the school that will demonstrate improvement in pest management practices.
  • Incorporate awareness of integrated pest management principles into the students' curricula.
  • Incorporate integrated pest management information and updates into newsletters, school announcements, and other outreach material.

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Additional Opportunities for Promoting Environmental Health in School Facilities

Sustainable school environmental health programs are important for maintaining safe, healthy, and long-lasting school facilities. Careful planning is necessary to ensure that building upgrades contribute to the health and comfort of the building occupants. Routine maintenance and well-designed upgrades and improvements can extend the life of a school building, improve the health of the learning environment, and generate cost savings through increased energy and resource efficiency.

This section presents general information that schools can use as they plan for and undertake major construction and renovation projects, as well as recommendations for improving classroom comfort (e.g., lighting, acoustics, ventilation, and temperature control) and becoming more energy- and water-efficient. For more specific guidelines and standards, refer to guidance and rating systems specifically developed for school design and construction, including:

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Construction Hat IconNew Construction and Renovation Projects

New construction and renovation projects are good opportunities for schools and school districts to improve the health of the school environment, address areas of concern identified under the five key components of the model program, improve classroom comfort, and become more energy- and water-efficient. Incorporating high-performance elements in school buildings can result in lower operating and maintenance costs and reduced energy bills, and if properly planned and implemented, can contribute to healthy school environments. By adopting high performance practices, schools and school districts can lower their operating costs by up to 30%.22 Existing schools can save 25% of operating costs by implementing some basic efficiency measures, occupant education, and engagement programs.23

School Building Under ConstructionThe following practices and actions should be considered during the design and planning phases for construction projects and building renovations:

  • When building or renovating a school, considering the location of the school and the needs of the surrounding community is important.
    • EPA's Voluntary School Siting Guidelines can help local school districts and their communities evaluate environmental factors to make the best possible school siting decisions.
    • EPA's Smart Growth and Schools website provides information and resources for applying smart growth principles to educational facility planning.
  • Indoor air quality is a critical aspect to consider when designing and maintaining school facilities. IAQ Design Tools for Schools provides detailed guidance and links to additional resources to help design healthy new schools, as well as repair, renovate, and maintain existing facilities.
  • Require the development and use of an indoor air quality management plan. The purpose of the management plan is to prevent residual problems with indoor air quality in the completed building and protect workers on the site from undue health risks during construction. The plan should identify specific measures to address:
    • Problem substances, including: construction dust, chemical fumes, off-gassing materials, and moisture. The plan should ensure that these problems are not introduced during construction, or, if they must be, eliminates or reduces their impact.
    • Areas of planning, including: product substitutions and materials storage, safe installation, proper sequencing, regular monitoring, and safe and thorough cleanup.
  • Schedule construction and renovation activities while school is out of session and all occupants are off premises, or ensure that building occupants are temporarily relocated to prevent exposure to harmful chemicals, dust, or particulates. Contractors should follow the EPA Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule 's occupant protection provisions, which include complying with all information distribution requirements under the RRP Rule and posting signs that clearly define the work area and warn occupants and other persons not involved in renovation activities to remain outside the work area. Another resource is the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association's Indoor Air Quality Guidelines for Occupied Buildings Under Construction , which provides guidance on maintaining good indoor air quality in occupied buildings undergoing construction or renovation.
  • Be familiar with procedures used by contractors for protecting occupants at each stage of the construction/renovation process (e.g., isolating and ventilating the work area), and any other safety precautions that will be taken.
  • Have contractors demonstrate that they have received all appropriate training and can produce all necessary certifications before work begins.
  • Carefully select the materials and products (e.g., flooring/carpeting, wall/ceiling materials, paints and coatings, adhesives and sealants, and engineered wood products) to be used in the school's construction and renovation projects. From an indoor air quality perspective, choose products that:
    • Contain low-toxicity, water-based formulations;
    • Release no or low VOC emissions;
    • Emit little or no odor;
    • Contain no heavy metals;
    • Are formaldehyde free;
    • Are easy to clean and maintain; and
    • Are not susceptible to moisture damage that can foster mold growth.
    For more information on materials selection and controlling contaminants, see the IAQ Design Tools for Schools Controlling Pollutants and Sources website.
  • Indoor air quality is affected not only by the materials that are used in construction and renovation, but also by the order in which they are installed. Certain materials and finishes (e.g., composite wood products, adhesives, sealants, finishes, and gypsum board) off-gas potential indoor contaminants for a short duration after they are manufactured or installed. The contaminants off-gassed by these materials can be absorbed by "fuzzy" or "fleecy" materials as well as finishes (e.g., carpet, insulation, and fabric wall coverings) that are woven, fibrous, or porous in nature. As a result, these finishing materials can become repositories, or "sinks," for substances that can be released much later or that promote subsequent mold growth. When possible, allow potential off-gassing materials to dry before finishing materials are installed.
  • Be aware of potential health effects and safe handling procedures for chemicals and products being used or installed in the school by contractors. SDSs and other product literature are good resources.
  • Include entry mat systems in the design of the school building.
    • Entry mat systems are critical in trapping soil, pollutants, and moisture that otherwise would spread into and throughout the building, as well as in reducing the cost to properly maintain the building.
    • The International Sanitary Supply Association reports that most of the dirt within a building is tracked in by shoes, and that 85% of this dirt can be removed if entry mats are properly designed and maintained.
  • Install precipitation controls to keep school buildings dry.
    • Prevent rain and snow from causing moisture problems in school buildings:
      • Install sloped roofs to reduce the risk of moisture damage over the life of the building;
      • Landscape around school buildings to create ground slopes to carry water away from the building;
    • Ensure exterior entries have sufficient overhang to prevent rain or snow from collecting at the building's entrance, or being blown into the building; and
    • Prevent air intakes from collecting precipitation.
    • During construction, keep building materials dry, especially those with moisture absorbing properties (e.g., wood, insulation, paper, and fabric) to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. If moisture is present, mold will grow on virtually any material.
    • Wet materials need to be allowed to dry as much as possible.
      • Cover dry materials with plastic to prevent rain damage, and
      • If resting on the ground, use spacers to allow air to circulate between the ground and the materials.
  • Implement dust controls during new construction and renovation activities. Common renovation activities like sanding, cutting, and demolition can create dust and paint chips that contain contaminants, such as lead, that can be harmful to the health of children and school staff. EPA's RRP Rule requires that firms performing renovation, repair, and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in pre-1978 homes and child occupied facilitiesb (including schools that serve children 6 years of age and younger) be certified by EPA and use certified renovators who are trained to follow lead-safe work practices. Firms can become certified by submitting a completed application and fee to EPA or an authorized state, as appropriate. Individuals can become certified renovators by taking an eight hour training course from an EPA-approved training provider. For more information, visit EPA's Lead RRP website.
  • Incorporate simple design features that can reduce the likelihood of pest problems.
    • Eliminate potential places around the exterior of the school building where pests can hide or build nests.
      • Keep foundation walls free from open cracks.
      • Ensure glazing materials are free of cracks and holes.
    • Ensure doors, windows, and other outside openings have tightly fitted screens of at least 16 mesh per inch.
    • Ensure basement windows have rodent shields, storm windows, or other barriers.
    • Ensure ventilation openings are covered with material such as perforated sheet metal plates, cast iron grills, or wire mesh.
    • Clear the under-floor space of all vegetation, organic material, and construction materials.
    • Provide minimum mechanical methods for preventing the entry of rodents into school buildings, including:
      • Covering foundation wall vents with metal grills or plates;
      • Sealing openings in the foundation and exterior walls created for pipes, cables, and conduits;
      • Covering windows located within two feet of ground level with wire screens; and
      • Ensuring minimum clearance between doors and door jambs.
    • Ensure all joints, seams, penetrations, openings, and other sources of air leakage throughout the building envelope are caulked, gasketed, weather-stripped, wrapped, or otherwise sealed.
    • Take steps to ensure the building is termite resistant, such as installing floor framing made of naturally durable or preservative treated wood.27
  • EPA's ENERGY STAR program offers Energy Design Guidance for new construction projects.
    • The guidance is a set of suggested actions for building owners and design professionals to establish energy efficiency goals and ensure that energy is addressed at all levels of a construction project.
    • EPA encourages using these best practices for energy design as part of the overall design, construction, and operations process to translate design intent into buildings that perform and earn the ENERGY STAR.
  • Use the ENERGY STAR Building Upgrade Manual to plan and implement building upgrades by following the five building upgrade stages: retro-commissioning, lighting, supplemental load reductions, air distribution systems, and heating and cooling systems. Chapter 10 focuses on issues specific to K-12 schools.
  • Design teams should use ENERGY STAR Target Finder to set energy targets and receive an EPA energy performance score for projects during the design process. Energy targets account for how activities, people, and systems will affect energy use and enables the design team to make decisions that support the function and optimal energy efficiency of the school buildings. Projects that earn a score of 75 or higher are eligible for Designed to Earn the ENERGY STAR certification.
  • Use the Federal High Performance Sustainable Buildings Checklist (9pp, 1.1M, located in ENERGY STAR's measurement and tracking tool Portfolio Manager, to assess the sustainability of an existing school building. The checklist was developed for federal agencies to assess their existing buildings against the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Buildings:
    • Employ integrated assessment, operation, and management principles;
    • Optimize energy performance;
    • Protect and conserve water;
    • Enhance indoor environmental quality; and
    • Reduce environmental impact of materials.
  • The Department of Energy has developed the National Best Practices Manual for Building High Performance Schools (457pp, 8.8M), a resource for architects and engineers who are responsible for designing or retrofitting schools, and for the project managers who work for the design teams. The manual provides information on school design, building systems (e.g., lighting and electrical, mechanical and ventilation), day lighting, and resource-efficient building materials, among other topics.
  • The International Code Council developed the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) to establish minimum green requirements for new and existing buildings. IgCC is the first model code to include sustainability measures for the entire construction project and its site, from design to certification, and is expected to make buildings more efficient. School design teams can use IgCC as a guide for incorporating more high performance elements into new and existing school buildings.
  • Incorporate water-efficient products into building design and renovation plans. EPA's WaterSense program makes finding and selecting water-efficient products easy and ensures consumer confidence in those products with a label backed by third-party, independent testing and certification. Products bearing the WaterSense label:
    • Perform as well or better than their less-efficient counterparts;
    • Are 20% more water-efficient than average products in that category; and
    • Provide measurable water savings results.
  • Many local water utility programs offer rebates for water-efficient products. For a list of rebates, please visit the WaterSense Rebate Finder website.
  • When replacing drinking water fixtures, make sure the new equipment is NSF International Certified "lead-free."
  • Consider seeking third-party certification for incorporating high-performance design features. Three recognized programs that emphasize building for high-performance and better environmental health are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Schools , CHPS , and Green Globes .
    • LEED for Schools is intended for use in the design and construction phases of school building, and encourages project teams to use an integrated design approach from start to finish. Using this integrated approach, LEED promotes improved practices in:
      • Site selection and development;
      • Water and energy use;
      • Environmentally preferred materials, finishes, and furnishings;
      • Waste stream management;
      • Indoor air quality and occupant comfort; and
      • Innovation in sustainable design and construction.
    To become LEED certified, projects must meet all prerequisites and earn a minimum number of points in the six areas listed above. The number of points earned determines the level of LEED certification the project receives.
  • CHPS has developed a rating system specifically for schools. CHPS Criteria for high-performance schools cover seven topics under three categories:
    • Strategy
      • Integration
    • Design
      • Indoor environmental quality
      • Energy
      • Water
      • Site
      • Materials and waste management
    • Performance
      • Operations and maintenance
    CHPS Criteria are available for California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, the Northeast (New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont), Texas, Virginia, and Washington. Schools in these states can choose from two programs: CHPS Verified and CHPS Designed .
    • CHPS Verified provides an independent review of projects in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Texas, and Virginia using the CHPS Criteria to assess their high-performance status. Projects that meet minimum certification receive a CHPS plaque.
      • CHPS PreFab provides an independent review and precertification of modular, relocatable, and prefabricated classroom modules. Schools can use CHPS PreFab in conjunction with CHPS Verified.
    • CHPS Designed is a self-certification process for projects in California, Hawaii, New York, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and the Northeast. CHPS Designed projects receive a certificate and use of the CHPS Designed logo.

      CHPS has several resources available to assist in planning, designing, operating, commissioning, or maintaining school facilities.
    • The CHPS High Performance School Best Practices Manual is a six-volume set of best practices that cover planning, design, maintenance and operations, commissioning, prefabricated classrooms, and the CHPS Criteria.
    • The CHPS Operations Report Card benchmarks the current performance of existing schools, provides a report card of results, and makes suggestions for improvement in seven categories: energy efficiency, thermal comfort, visual comfort, indoor air quality, waste reduction, water conservation, and acoustics.
    • The CHPS High Performance Products Database allows schools and school districts to search for products that meet CHPS and other green building criteria (e.g., low-emitting materials, recycled content, and Forest Stewardship Council Certified wood products), and deliver environmental and health benefits to school building occupants
  • Green Globes is a Web-based program offered by the Green Building Initiative that includes green building guidance and third-party certification for commercial buildings, including schools. The Green Globes program includes:
    • A comprehensive environmental assessment protocol (areas of assessment include: energy, water, resources, emissions, indoor environment, project management, and site);
    • Software tools that speed and simplify online assessment;
    • Best practices guidance for green construction and operations;
    • Third-party assessors with green building expertise (e.g., green building design, engineering, construction, and facility operations); and
    • A rating/certification system.

New and existing buildings must achieve 35% of 1000 total points in a preliminary self-evaluation to be eligible to seek a Green Globes certification and rating for their environmental sustainability and achievements.

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Classroom Comfort IconEnhancing Classroom Comfort

Proper design, maintenance, and operation of lighting systems, ventilation systems, thermal control systems, and acoustics have a significant impact on school building performance and occupant comfort. Environmental distractions (e.g., poor lighting, glare, poorly controlled temperature and humidity, and excessive ambient noise or poor acoustics) can affect the health, attention, and performance of students, faculty, and school staff. Existing schools, schools undergoing renovation, and new schools can be enhanced by including design elements that maximize comfort and safety and enable building users to focus on education.

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Get Started

Conduct a walk-through of the school building to identify areas or rooms in greatest need for improvement. Specific building elements to look for include:

  • Inefficient lighting (e.g., too dim or too much glare);
  • Poor acoustics and noise control features; and
  • Poor and inefficient temperature control.

Although resources might not be available to address every issue encountered on the walk-through, simple actions can be taken to realize immediate improvements:

  • Inspect ventilation systems to ensure they can provide a constant supply of air.29
  • Inform teachers of trouble spots throughout the school building and encourage them to be flexible, and plan lessons and activities accordingly (e.g., use a classroom with poor acoustics for a study hall, not a music room).
  • Wash windows and skylights frequently to maintain adequate day lighting.30
  • Educate teachers, staff, and students on steps they can take to use building systems properly, such as:
    • Using lighting systems appropriately;
    • Keeping ventilation intakes clear;
    • Keeping windows closed when the HVAC system is on;
    • Removing obstructions from around heating and cooling equipment; and
    • Managing the HVAC system, in terms of temperature control, humidity, and ventilation.

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Take Action

As resources allow, adopt high performance design elements in classrooms and throughout the school building, beginning with specific rooms and areas identified in the school walk-through.

Examples include:

  • Install or upgrade to acoustical ceiling tiles, lined duct work, and HVAC systems with appropriately placed vents.29
  • Locate information on the school building's acoustics and find out if the acoustical quality meets Standard 12.60, "Acoustical Performance Criteria, Design Requirements, and Guidelines for Schools," of the American National Standards Institute. Part 1 of the standard applies to classrooms in permanent school buildings, and Part 2 of the standard applies to relocatable classrooms and modular learning spaces.
  • Design lighting systems based on task, school room configuration, building layout, and surface finishes.1
  • Install new or upgrade existing lighting fixtures. Lighting upgrades can improve the school's energy efficiency, and removing old lighting fixtures might help keep the school free from contaminants, including PCBs. To learn more see Proper Maintenance, Removal, and Disposal of PCB-Containing Fluorescent Light Ballasts: A Guide for School Administrators and Maintenance Personnel.
  • Install easy-to-operate lighting controls and manual blinds or other window treatments to control excessive sunlight or glare.
  • Use paint with a matte finish to reduce excessive glare.
  • Inspect heating and cooling equipment quarterly and change filters per maintenance schedule.30
  • Adopt EPA's SunWise program for school use and to inform school infrastructure enhancements (e.g., sun-safe policies and shade structures).

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Beyond the Basics

High performance schools go beyond the basic elements of providing good acoustics, thermal control, adequate ventilation, and optimal day lighting. Consider implementing the following activities and practices:

  • To determine how high performance building upgrades are impacting the school, consider developing and recording measures that will demonstrate improvements toward becoming a high performance school.
  • Integrate lessons on high performance design elements into the student curricula. Visit the U.S. Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools website for more information.

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Eco Friendly IconEnergy and Water Efficiency

States spend more on energy than any other school-related expense, aside from personnel. Existing schools can achieve higher performance by targeting energy efficiency in school operations and maintenance and can typically reduce energy bills by 5% to 20% even without significant capital investment.22,31 School districts can use the savings from lower energy bills to pay for building upgrades that enhance the health and quality of the students' learning environment. ENERGY STAR provides a wealth of resources for K-12 school districts interested in reducing their utility bills, improving their energy performance, receiving recognition, and improving the learning environment. ENERGY STAR certified schools use 35% less energy than typical buildings and emit 35% less carbon dioxide.22

Schools and school districts performing building upgrades should ensure that the upgrades make their facilities more energy-efficient and healthier at the same time. When done properly, many energy efficiency upgrades can improve the quality of a school's indoor environment, protecting—even enhancing—indoor air quality without sacrificing energy performance. If certain energy upgrades are not done correctly, however, they might adversely impact indoor air quality and cause other health concerns for children and staff. For example, increased energy efficiency in building construction, in some cases, has resulted in tighter building shells and reduced ventilation rates. EPA's Energy Efficiency and Indoor Air Quality in Schools (5pp, 459K) working paper describes how to enhance energy efficiency while protecting indoor air quality.

Another way schools and school districts can save money and conserve resources is to become more water-efficient. Schools use a tremendous amount of water every day in a variety of applications, including:

  • Heating and cooling systems,
  • Restrooms,
  • Drinking water fountains,
  • Locker rooms,
  • Cafeterias,
  • Laboratories and classrooms, and
  • Outdoor playing fields and lawns.

EPA's WaterSense program provides resources to help schools make more water-efficient choices. WaterSense-labeled products increase public awareness concerning products that are independently certified to provide water efficiency without sacrificing performance. By adopting and promoting water-efficient products, services, and practices, schools and school districts can greatly reduce annual water and energy costs, and help reduce the stress on natural resources.

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Get Started

Conduct a walk-through of the school building to identify areas or rooms where energy or water efficiency upgrades can be made. Although resources might not be available to address every issue encountered on the walk-through, simple actions can be taken to realize immediate improvements:

  • Understand the school district's policy/program goals regarding energy and water efficiency.
    • Interview school personnel responsible for energy and water use.
    • Check the partner list on ENERGY STAR's K-12 School Districts website to determine if the school/school district is a partner in the ENERGY STAR program. If not, take steps to become an ENERGY STAR partner and demonstrate the school's commitment to energy efficiency.
  • Determine the school's energy and water use baseline using ENERGY STAR's measurement and tracking tool, Portfolio Manager. Schools also can receive an ENERGY STAR energy-performance score (on a 1–100 scale) that ranks their energy performance relative to similar buildings nationwide.
  • Inspect the school's plumbing system regularly. Immediately repair plumbing problems encountered during inspections.
  • Perform periodic leak audits to determine if leaks are occurring when water is not being consumed. Turn off all water-consuming appliances, take a baseline water meter reading, avoid water usage for two hours, and take a second water meter reading. If the two readings differ, a leak is occurring. Immediately repair any leaks identified during the leak audit.
  • Landscape the school grounds using plants with low-water needs, and water only when necessary (preferably during cooler times of the day).
  • Use a broom to clean walkways, driveways, and entrances rather than hosing off or using a blower to clean these areas.
  • Operate and maintain all building systems (e.g., chillers, cooling towers, boilers, plumbing fixtures, and cafeteria equipment) as efficiently as possible.
  • Educate teachers, staff, and students on best practices for saving energy and water such as:
    • Turn off lights and electronics when they are not being used.
    • Keep vents clear.
    • Do not leave doors open to the outside longer than necessary.
    • Conserve water usage in restrooms and locker rooms by reducing excessive water consumption during hand washing and showers.

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Take Action

As resources allow, adopt energy- and water-efficient technologies and practices throughout the school building, beginning with specific rooms and areas identified in the school walk-through. Examples include:

  • Use Portfolio Manager to track energy and water use, set goals, and measure progress. This tool allows a school to:
    • Track multiple energy and water meters for each facility;
    • Rate building energy performance against similar buildings nationwide;
    • Track greenhouse gas emissions;
    • Set investment priorities; and
    • Earn the ENERGY STAR. Schools earning an ENERGY STAR energy performance score of 75 or higher using Portfolio Manager might qualify for ENERGY STAR certification.
  • Develop an energy management plan using ENERGY STAR Guidelines for Energy Management. These guidelines can help schools and school districts improve their energy, environmental, and financial performance.
  • Develop a plan to replace pre-1979 fluorescent lighting to reap significant energy benefits and remove PCB-containing lighting ballasts from the school building. To learn more about PCBs in lighting fixtures, see Proper Maintenance, Removal, and Disposal of PCB-Containing Fluorescent Light Ballasts: A Guide for School Administrators and Maintenance Personnel.
  • Establish a summer and evening energy policy that minimizes the use of electricity and other forms of energy. The policy should:
    • Identify which rooms/areas of the school building will be occupied and limit the use of lights and electricity accordingly.
    • Establish appropriate temperature controls when the school building is not occupied.
    • Establish procedures for ensuring windows and doors are closed when appropriate.
  • Develop a procurement policy that favors the purchase of ENERGY STAR qualified products (e.g., kitchen and office equipment, computers, and water heaters) and WaterSense labeled products (e.g., showerheads, toilets, and sink faucets).
  • Consider launching an energy efficiency competition to get students, faculty, and staff excited about a new energy management program, or to enhance an existing program. Refer to ENERGY STAR's Guide to Energy Efficiency Competitions for Buildings & Plants (22pp, 2.6M) for guidance on planning and launching a competition, as well as case studies and best practices from recent competitions.
  • Utilize the Low Carbon IT Campaign, which promotes low-power "sleep" settings on computers and provides:
    • Free technical expertise on how to best activate the settings on the school's network;
    • An estimate of the school's savings; and
    • An official certificate of recognition from EPA acknowledging the school's efforts.
  • Maximize the performance efficiency of equipment by maintaining an appliance servicing schedule.
  • Replace older equipment (e.g., dishwashers and washing machines) with energy-saving devices.
  • Install water-saving devices wherever possible:
    • Water aerators and automatic shut off devices on faucets.
    • High-efficiency showerheads and timer shut-off devices to reduce water use during showers.
    • Sensors for outdoor sprinklers and irrigation systems to water grounds only when needed.
  • Maximize natural vegetative cover on school grounds and maintain playing fields with drought-tolerant grasses.

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Beyond the Basics

High performance schools go beyond conserving water and energy in their daily operations and maintenance. Consider implementing the following activities and practices:

  • Develop and record measures specific to the school that will demonstrate improvements in energy and water efficiency. Examples include:
    • Cost savings on electric, water, and gas invoices.
    • Cost savings in purchasing paper products, light bulbs, and maintenance services for office equipment and other electronics.
    • Cost savings through reduced water use by installing more water-efficient equipment.
  • Develop energy and water use lesson plans and familiarize students with best practices for saving energy and water . Lessons can be applied in science, math, environmental science, and other courses.
  • Consider investing in solar panels, green roofs, or rain barrels. These options not only contribute to energy and water efficiency, but can be integrated into classroom curricula as well.
  • Install water filling stations to encourage students to fill their own water bottles and reduce the use of plastic water bottles in schools.
  • Include information and updates on energy and water efficiency in newsletters, school announcements, and other outreach material.

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Additional Actions to Promote Environmentally Friendly School Facilities

Trash CansMany high performing schools address the three Rs in their environmental health programming: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Consider implementing the following activities and practices:

  • Provide recycling bins for plastic; office paper, newspaper and cardboard; aluminum and tin; and glass.
  • Establish practices to minimize food waste from cafeteria food production.
  • Implement a procurement policy that emphasizes purchasing school supplies and equipment made with recycled content (e.g., paper products, engine oil, and paints).

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Training IconFaculty and Staff Training

A successful school environmental health program relies on the active participation of all persons involved. From school administrators and teachers, to nurses and maintenance personnel, all faculty and staff have a role in protecting the school's environmental health. As such, training is an effective way to ensure that faculty and staff understand their roles and how they contribute to the success and sustainability of the program.

Training opportunities should be provided to faculty and staff in advance of program implementation and should address all aspects of the school environmental health program, not just those areas that relate directly to the faculty and staff members' primary responsibilities. An integrated training curriculum should educate trainees on:

  • Children's environmental health and safety in schools;
  • The purpose of a school environmental health program;
  • The components of the program;
  • The benefits for students, faculty, and staff;
  • Behavior change in the classroom (e.g., prohibiting cleaning products from home or using unauthorized and possibly toxic art materials); and
  • The policies and procedures currently in place that support the program.

Refresher training should be offered annually to provide updates and reinforce the program's goals. Tying training opportunities to continuing education units for certification can be an incentive for faculty and staff to participate.

The section below describes specific issues and topics that training activities should address for each of the five key components of a school environmental health program. Additional information and training material can be found on the following websites:

Practice Effective Cleaning and Maintenance

Prevent Mold and Moisture

  • Roles and responsibilities of program participants (including teachers, the health program coordinator, staff, maintenance personnel, and any other persons involved with implementation).
  • Policies and procedures for preventing moisture and mold.
  • Potential environmental health risks (e.g., molds).

Reduce Chemical and Environmental Contaminant Hazards

  • Roles and responsibilities of program participants (including teachers, the health program coordinator, staff, maintenance personnel, and any other persons involved with implementation).
  • State and local purchasing, use, storage, and disposal guidelines.
  • Chemical management, hazards, safety practices, and other requirements for handling chemicals.
  • The school's hazard communication plan and familiarizing faculty and staff with the school's emergency policies, procedures, and points of contact.
  • Purchasing and using less toxic lab chemicals, art supplies, and other materials.
  • Recognizing and treating injuries resulting from chemical exposures or accidents.
  • How to properly use chemical safety and personal protection equipment.
  • How to read an SDS and where to locate SDSs in the school building.

Ensure Good Ventilation

Prevent Pests and Reduce Pesticide Exposure

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Curricula IconStudent Curricula

In addition to faculty and staff, students should understand the variety of environmental health issues encountered in schools and how they can contribute to sustaining a school environmental health program. Student involvement will enhance their knowledge of the environmental health issues that affect them, and will give them a sense of ownership and accountability in the ultimate success of the program.

Environmental health projects can easily be incorporated into appropriate lesson plans (e.g., science and health) that meet state learning standards. Teachers should receive approval from the school district, district curriculum and academic directors, and the school principal, as appropriate, for their new curricula before introducing it in the classroom, and should consider pilot testing the curricula before launching on a wider scale.

In addition to adopting environmental health curricula, schools should encourage students to explore environmental health topics for science fair projects, engage in extracurricular activities that relate to the environment or environmental health, and participate in volunteer opportunities that promote environmental stewardship. Additional information and course material can be found on the following websites:

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Practice Effective Cleaning and Maintenance

Grades K–5
  • Discuss with students the source of dust and allergens, and brainstorm ways to minimize dust and allergens in the classroom.
Grades 6–8
  • Identify common household products (e.g., baking soda and vegetable oil) that can be mixed into green cleaning solutions, and have students work with science teachers to test appropriate recipes for homemade cleaning products.
  • Research safer alternatives to common household cleaning products.
Grades 9–12
  • Have students conduct an informal inventory of cleaning products in their homes (with an adult present, if necessary). Identify any hazardous/toxic substances listed on the labels and discuss why they pose a risk to human or environmental health.
  • Encourage students to conduct research and science projects on dust and allergens and their impacts on human health.

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Prevent Mold and Moisture

Grades K–5
  • Discuss the link between moisture and mold, and brainstorm ways to prevent mold growth at school and at home.
Grades 6–8
  • Observe the growth of different kinds of food molds.
  • Have students research the health effects of mold, how to recognize various types of molds, and ways to mitigate mold growth.
Grades 9–12
  • Arrange for students to accompany facility/maintenance staff on a walk-through of the school to identify areas where mold and moisture are common.
  • Grow molds on different types of surfaces and identify the best ways to mitigate mold growth for each surface.
  • Encourage students to conduct research and science projects on moisture and mold.

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Reduce Chemical and Environmental Contaminant Hazards

Grades K–5
  • Design a game to help students recognize symbols and words that identify products containing hazardous substances.
  • Brainstorm how chemical safety can prevent pollution at home.
  • Introduce the concept of the water cycle and how different types of contaminants can be introduced at each stage.
  • Participate in EPA's National Radon Poster Contest or hold a school-wide radon poster contest.
Grades 6–8
  • Educate students on the proper handling, storage, and disposal of chemicals and chemical products.
  • Have students pick a chemical/contaminant and research its history, use, and impact on human health and the environment.
  • Create chemical safety bulletin boards, posters, or other displays.
  • Encourage students to test or monitor the water quality at different taps throughout the school building.
Grades 9–12
  • Familiarize students with chemical safety equipment, procedures, and SDSs.
  • Encourage students to conduct research projects on the health impacts associated with exposure to environmental contaminants.
  • Educate students on the importance of testing for lead in drinking water and incorporate appropriate lead testing methods into laboratory curricula.
  • Incorporate simple toxicology lessons into science or health classes to help students make safer product choices.

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Ensure Good Ventilation

Grades K–5
  • Create ABC books using indoor air quality vocabulary words.
  • Create dioramas to demonstrate mechanical air flow.
  • Identify and discuss the causes of indoor air pollution.
Grades 6–8
  • Define the concept of the indoor environment and list properties of the indoor environment.
  • Design inventions that will prevent or fix indoor environment problems.
  • Create indoor environment or indoor air quality bulletin boards or other displays.
Grades 9–12
  • Solve problems using the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit Problem Solving Wheel.
  • Invite a member of the facility/maintenance staff to talk with students about how an HVAC system works. Arrange for students to accompany facility/maintenance staff on a building walk-through to gain hands-on experience.
  • Conduct a heating and cooling audit for the school.
  • Encourage students to conduct research and science projects on HVAC systems and good ventilation.
  • The National Education Association Health Information Network has created a series of hands-on, interactive lesson plans geared toward grades K-12 (127pp, 5M). All lesson plans are tied to state education standards and can be integrated into a school district's curriculum.

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Prevent Pests and Reduce Pesticide Exposure

Grades K–5
Grades 6–8
  • Define the concepts of integrated pest management, and discuss the different ways integrated pest management can be applied in school and at home.
  • Inspect the school for evidence of pests or areas where pests might thrive and suggest solutions to fix and prevent pest problems.
  • Have students research the history of pesticides and learn how to read a pesticide label.
Grades 9–12
  • Have students research school integrated pest management programs and develop an integrated pest management program for their school.
  • Approach facility/maintenance staff about conducting a pest monitoring project.
  • Encourage students to conduct research and science projects on integrated pest management and pesticides.

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1.
National Research Council. (2006). Green schools: Attributes for health and learning. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. 192 pages.
2.
Akinbami, L.J. (2006). The state of childhood asthma, United States, 1980–2005. Advance Data from Vital and Health Statistics 381, 1–24.
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Collaborative for High Performance Schools. (2006). Maintenance & operations of high performance schools. Retrieved 2011, from Collaborative for High Performance Schools: http://www.chps.net/dev/Drupal/node/39 .
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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (2003). NIOSH health hazard evaluation report: Hilton Head Elementary School, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. By N. Sahakian, Choe, K., White, S., & Jones, R. Cincinatti, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH HETA 2003-0039-2914. September. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/hhe/reports/pdfs/2003-0039-2914.pdf (62pp, 1.7M).
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a
When collecting such data, schools and school districts might have to consider and respond to human subject review protocols (e.g., state institutional review board).
b
"Child occupied facilities" are defined as those areas visited regularly by children, under the age of 6, on at least two different days within any week, provided that each day's visit lasts at least 3 hours, the combined weekly visits last at least 6 hours, and the combined annual visits last at least 60 hours. This may include, but is not limited to child care facilities, preschools, and kindergarten classrooms. (Regulatory Definition of Child Occupied facilities – 40 C.F.R. § 280.83).
c
Reference to the Green Schools Alliance does not constitute an endorsement by EPA.
d
Reference to Classroom Earth does not constitute an endorsement by EPA.
e
Reference to GEF does not constitute an endorsement by EPA.
f
Reference to the Green Schools Alliance does not constitute an endorsement by EPA.
g
Reference to the National Environmental Education Foundation does not constitute an endorsement by EPA.
h
Reference to Classroom Earth does not constitute an endorsement by EPA.

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