How Healthy Schools Save Money

Reducing Indoor Chemical Exposure

Reducing Indoor Chemicals

PHOTO © LOOKER_STUDIO

While exposure to outdoor air pollution can make you sick, exposure to indoor pollution is often worse, as studies show we spend most of our time indoors. Wayne R. Ott, Department of Statistics, Stanford University, found that U.S. “persons … spend only about two percent of their time outdoors, six percent of their time in transit, and 92 percent of their time indoors,” concluding: “We are basically an indoor species.”

In addition, classrooms have dense — no reference to intelligence — populations. Per C. Kenneth Tanner, writing for ASBO’s School Business Affairs: “Classroom density may be a more important planning consideration than size. The lower middle range for human social distance is seven feet — not met in most classrooms containing 20 to 25 students.”

Plus, each of the 20 to 26 people in a “dense” classroom releases a mix of chemicals from deodorants, hairsprays or gels, fragrances, fabric treatments, etc.

Add to that the materials, furnishings, cleaners and other substances brought into schools that emit airborne pollutants, and school facilities can become very unhealthy.

Exposure to Chemical Soup

Per the U.S. EPA, there are more than 80,000 chemical substances in legal use under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Most of these have not been tested for long-term health risks; and they are most often found in mixtures with other chemicals. The complex “soup” of chemicals in school environments exacerbates sourcing the cause of illness or malaise, and results in applying to unhealthy schools the general descriptor of “sick building syndrome.”

The importance of reducing exposure to synthetic chemicals is reinforced as we’ve learned the “dose makes the poison” adage does not apply to common legal chemicals that affect human hormones in parts per billion (ppb), also known as endocrine disruptors.

Physical, Educational and Fiscal Solutions

Less chemicals = more students and teachers in class, with better health and focus.

A 1997-2001 study at Charles Young Elementary School showed that improving the indoor environment through renovation and healthier cleaning raised attendance from 89 percent to 93 percent along with a “qualitative indication of reduced asthma.”

The Young study noted “a direct connection between healthy school environments, behaviors and attitudes of students, parents and educators; and academic performance and achievement.”

Also, fewer chemicals means lower cost of buying, shipping, storing and handling chemicals. For example, Northern Tioga School District, in Pennsylvania, reduced annual supply costs by $19,883.25 by not buying aerosols and harsh products such as bowl cleaners.

A study led by Mark J. Mendell, Ph.D., MPH, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and published in the American Journal of Public Health, stated: “Improving building environments may result in ... economic benefits of $5 to $75 billion annually [and] offers enormous potential health and economic returns.”

Thus, preventing exposure to chemicals provides a triple benefit: 1) healthier people, 2) better learning and 3) healthier budgets.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

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