Clean, Green, and Healthy Schools: Region 4 Highlights
EPA Region 4 includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and tribes. See highlights for all EPA Regions
Partnering to Enhance Healthy Indoor Environment Programs in Schools
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a federal public health agency based in Atlanta, Georgia, has worked closely with EPA Region 4 for a number of years. In February 2014, Region 4 was invited by a school district in Athens, Georgia, to present at a workshop on healthy indoor environments. Lashon Blakely, Region 4 Healthy Schools coordinator, accompanied by partners from ATSDR, spoke on the issues of mercury contamination, indoor environment management practices, and reducing student exposure to indoor air contaminants, stressing the importance of having indoor air management plans in each school.
The Athens school district received positive feedback from the administrators, teachers, and staff who attended the workshop, and Region 4 was later invited to present at a conference hosted by the district in September 2014. Blakely herself was unable to attend, so she requested that ATSDR speak on her behalf. The agency presented on creating effective chemical management plans, incorporating EPA’s State School Environmental Health Guidelines along with some real-life experiences with conducting chemical clean outs in schools. Eight school districts, representing more than a thousand students, attended the conference, learning feasible actions they could take to avoid chemical contamination in their schools and resources that can help them do so.
After also hearing from Blakely in February, the school nurse from a local school district invited Region 4 to co-host a related school workshop, along with district facility staff, for local teachers and school staff. The facility representative covered the risk management aspects of daily maintenance operations, such as recurring indoor air incidents and the role of maintenance. Region 4 focused on the preventative measures schools can take to avoid occupant exposure to indoor air contaminants. This approach helped teachers understand why taking action to improve indoor air leads to healthier classrooms. The relationships Region 4 has fostered with stakeholders, whether federal agencies or local school staff members, has afforded them these opportunities to connect with schools and districts throughout the region, and it plans to continue leveraging these partnerships to make an even stronger impact in upcoming years.
Helping Florida Schools Expand Environmental Health Programs
EPA Region 4 became involved with Orange County Public Schools, Orlando, Florida when the district requested consideration for EPA’s Great Start Award, which recognizes schools that are taking proactive steps to improve indoor air quality utilizing the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Tools for Schools Kit. Orange County has been making progressive strides towards developing a more effective comprehensive environmental management plan in 185 buildings owned by the district. Lashon Blakely, the Region 4 Schools Coordinator, offered to provide more training to help expand the school’s existing environmental health program. Orange County Public Schools already has an established program in place, yet the district wants to initiate incentive awards for individual schools’ outstanding performance in school maintenance by instituting an “indoor environmental quality award” program. Ensuring staff understand the basic principles of effective indoor environmental quality; Orange County identified a need for staff training to facilitate increased awareness about common indoor air concerns, root causes and proper remedial action steps.
In addition, Orange County Public Schools was instrumental in arranging EPA Region 4’s participation at Florida’s School Plant Management Association annual conference on September 11, 2013. The “Creating Healthier School Environments” session was delivered to school facility staff including audience discussion and participation. Of the 33 Florida school districts represented at the conference, over half of those districts’ staff attended the training, where they were introduced to the Clean, Green and Healthy Schools approach, and Six Key Drivers of Highly Effective Environmental School practices. A highlight of the session was a panel discussion featuring Orange County Schools and Palm Beach School District’s robust program implementation strategies that have propelled their efforts, ensuring and sustaining school indoor environmental management for students and teachers.