School Environment

In many ways the problems of the school environment are similar to the preschool environment but at a much higher level because of: the many millions of children in schools who may be potentially sick; the time they spend each day, 5 days a week in the facility; the numbers of school buildings that are old and dilapidated, especially in the inner cities; size of the facility; the numbers and types of programs, and sheer volume of people, equipment, chemicals, storage, and the disposal areas; and the continuous complex interaction between these factors and people. Chemical management is of great concern because of the vast numbers of different chemicals and the quantities being used within the facility. Chemicals being used are stored in science laboratories, preparation areas, closets, disposal areas, etc. Chemicals being used include art supplies, paints, stains, inks, glazes, cleaning products, pesticides, fertilizers, deicers, paint removers, degreasers, lubricants, cleaning agents, adhesives, laboratory grade chemicals for teaching and learning, drinking water and swimming pool chemicals, old discarded used and unused chemicals, etc., and chemicals collected by untrained students, teachers and administrators from the community for later disposal. Closets used to store chemicals for laboratories, shops, art facilities, cleaning, and other purposes may typically contain old and abandoned substances which can be hazardous. Saving energy by making schools more airtight may have contributed to an increase in indoor air pollution caused by chemicals and other substances.

Older schools may be more likely to have the potential to be contaminated with lead-based paints and asbestos. Some older buildings from the 1950s through the 1970s may contain material contaminated with PCBs.

Key potential violations of federal EPA regulations in K-12 schools are:

  • • Asbestos violations
  • • Chlorofluorocarbon violations
  • • Combustion source violations
  • • Hazardous waste violations
  • • Oil storage tank violations
  • • Underground injection control violations
  • • Pesticide violations
  • • PCBs violations (See endnote 46)

Accident hazards also become a serious problem within the school, on the school grounds, and during transportation back and forth from school to home. In many schools there has been a severe deterioration of the facilities and equipment which may lead to injuries. (See below for section on “Injuries to School Children.”)

In the school environment, disease can be spread from the bathrooms and the water fountains as well as through contaminated hands which were not washed after use of the facilities. Respiratory infections spread rapidly because of the closeness of the students in various classrooms and other activities and because of the nature of the spread of airborne infections through ventilation systems. The potential for the spread of blood-borne disease exists because the children may already be infected and then come into a very close environment where the nature of the activities including sports can lead to transfer of the microorganisms. Food-borne disease is always a potential problem because of the mass feeding operation and because students bring packaged lunches from home and keep them in their lockers instead of refrigerated areas. Children frequently trade items from lunches back and forth.

Asthma, which is a non-contagious disease, can be triggered in the school facilities through a variety of indoor air pollutants. The children are already very susceptible.

The school typically has eight major service areas, each with its own environmental problems and Best Practices:

  • 1. Administrative/business which has very few environmental concerns
  • 2. Academic/vocational including personnel and equipment in all science areas with associated laboratories and classroom experiments, all art classes with associated work areas, technology areas with associated shops, swimming pools, all chemicals and other materials and storage, use and disposal
  • 3. Facilities operation and maintenance areas including personnel and equipment for building maintenance, heating and cooling, construction/renovation, solid and hazardous waste management, and the cafeteria
  • 4. Grounds maintenance including personnel and equipment for mowing and landscaping, irrigation, snow removal, maintenance of outside areas, collection of trash and yard waste, pesticide use, fertilizer use, and deicer/salt use
  • 5. Custodial areas including personnel and equipment for cleaning, storing, handling, using and disposing of commercial cleaning products, and collection, storage, and removal of solid waste from the school building
  • 6. Transportation including personnel and equipment for the operation, inspection, maintenance, repair, and storage of school buses and other vehicles
  • 7. Nursing stations/infection control including personnel and equipment for health service, physical education, and athletic programs
  • 8. Printing facilities including personnel and equipment for all types of printing

Stormwater management is a serious concern because of the contamination of water from school facilities due to the presence of septic tank effluents, vehicle wash wastewater, improper oil disposal, improper radiator flushing, spills from accidents, improper disposal of toxics, accumulated automotive wastes on parking lots, and wash from use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Best Practices for School Environment (See endnote 16)

  • • Trained professionals should conduct an annual risk assessment analysis of all areas and make the necessary adaptations as needed.
  • • Each school or preschool should have an emergency plan and practice it in case of an emergency or disaster. The school emergency plan should include evacuation and returning to the structures; lockdown procedures and when to use them; the roles and responsibilities of the school staff; means of communicating with the staff, students, and family; emergency equipment and supplies and how to use them; usable maps of the facility distributed to the appropriate authorities in advance of a problem; student release procedures; and how to document all actions. Training sessions should be held for all of the staff and drills should be conducted periodically at random. There should be continuous assessment of the school environment and emergency equipment. Each of the drills should be evaluated by the appropriate authorities to make sure that the children are safe. There should be drills including all proper emergency response people to determine if appropriate action is taken as rapidly as possible to secure the facility, personnel, and students.
  • • To provide Best Practices for each of the individual classrooms and laboratories and other areas of the school would be overwhelming and often repetitive. Instead major concerns are being chosen and Best Practices proposed for these concerns identified in some of the eight major service areas of a school facility listed above. (See specific concerns listed below.) Additional information is also available in various other parts of this book by topic area.
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