As the majority of Clark County students have returned to in-person education, improving indoor air quality (IAQ) has become an important consideration for schools. Poor IAQ can trigger asthma and allergies and has been linked to increased student absenteeism, poor reading comprehension, headaches, fatigue, lung disease, and more. Children tend to be disproportionately affected by adverse environmental health risks. They are made more vulnerable to chemical exposure compared to adults due to their greater relative consumption of food, water, and air. Children also often play close to the floor, making it easier for them to potentially access toxic materials that may be in carpet, dust, or dirt which their developing bodies are not equipped to safely metabolize. Improving IAQ can reduce germ transmission and the negative impacts on children's health and ability to learn.
To improve IAQ for students and staff, it is imperative to be aware of and diligently monitor or eliminate factors that can lead to poor IAQ in your school. An example of such a factor is the overuse or unsafe use of chemical-heavy cleaning supplies that can be respiratory irritants, such as bleach and ammonia. With increased awareness of school cleaning regimens in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to understand the health and environmental impacts of cleaning supplies. Many commonly used cleaners including but not limited to glass cleaners, bathroom cleaners, floor cleaners, aerosol sprays, chlorine bleach, and air fresheners emit toxic particles such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. Exposure to VOCs can cause cancer in the long-term, as well as difficultly breathing, nausea, and irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat in the near-term. As for impacts on the environment, VOCs and other chemicals released by aerosols contribute to the depletion of atmospheric ozone. Additionally, chemicals found in many detergents and disinfectants, such as bleach, easily end up in wastewater and cannot be completely filtered out. If these chemicals make their way into the freshwater cycle, some can bioaccumulate in the food chain and damage healthy ecosystems. The responsible use of cleaning products, therefore, is an integral aspect of fostering a school environment that is conducive to the healthy mental and physical development of its students.
Transitioning to the use of green cleaning supplies and practices is a relatively simple way to reduce exposure to VOCs while also improving your school's overall IAQ. The first step is to ensure all cleaning and disinfecting products used in the school are provided by the school. Faculty and staff should not bring in their own cleaning supplies. For general classroom cleaning, using a fragrance-free soap, water, and a cloth is sufficient at removing most germs on surfaces by up to 99%. Soap and water are also safe for teachers and students to use. When it comes to sanitizing or disinfecting, this should be performed by trained staff only and should never occur when student are present. If a school is interested in selecting products with safer chemical ingredients, the school can use the EPA's "Safer Choice" website to assist with selecting products that meet safety standards for both human health and the environment. Removing sources of pollution is the most impactful way to ensure your school's environment remains healthy.
For more information on how to implement a green cleaning program at your school, consult the helpful guide below. If your school is interested in ordering a free green cleaning classroom kit consisting of microfiber cloths, a spray bottle with castile soap and water, and classroom cleaning signs, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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