Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Greening state schools: New legislation ends use of cleaners with harsh chemicals

Connecticut schools will soon be jumping on the green bandwagon. Gov. M. Jodi Rell has signed into law a bill that aims to keep children and school staff healthier by eliminating the use of cleaning products containing harsh chemicals and replacing them with "green clean" products.
Cleaning agents for bathrooms, glass and carpets, as well as hand soaps, floor finishers and floor strippers, will have to meet nationally certified guidelines and be approved by the state Department of Administrative Services by July 1, 2011.
Some school districts, including Region 6 and Torrington, have already begun the process.
Tom Murphy, sales manager for RoVic Innovative Cleaning Solutions of Manchester, said his company supplies "literally dozens" of school districts, including Region 6. He said green cleaning involves more than just chemicals, and includes training and "looking at the entire program from cradle to grave."
“It means products like sustainable matting and sustainable mops, machines that use less water, less chemicals, less power... just different processes that make sure you use fewer chemicals and don't put chemicals down drains," Murphy said. "Different types of chemicals that can be harmful to humans can't be used."
Murphy said there are hundreds of ingredients in cleaning products that can cause harm, but that ammonia and bleach [Dash] "bleach in particular" [Dash] are two major chemicals he looks to eliminate from all his clients' cleaning regimens.
The green-cleaning bill has drawn broad support from educators, the environmental community, health professionals and parents. They cite a study from the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health claiming 12 percent of work-related asthma can be attributed to cleaning products.
In Connecticut, 10.5 percent of school children have asthma, and that rate can be as high as 20 percent in urban communities. The national average is 8 percent.
Margaret LaCroix, spokeswoman for the American Lung Association of New England, said mold and other things in the classroom are often triggers for children and staff who have asthma. "If you take a look at any given classroom, it's really important that school personnel be aware and that they use cleaning products that won't be exacerbating problems for children with asthma," she said.
The Connecticut Foundation for Environmentally Safe Schools and the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots environmental organization in the country, were the leading proponents of the bill. Martin Mador, legislative chairman for both organizations, said he lobbied for the bill because "the intentional introduction of toxic substances into our environment is a very important environmental issue."
According to Mador, many schools are making the switch without the legal requirement.
Torrington Middle School has been fighting a mold problem for several years, causing the replacement of carpeting with tiles and lawsuits against the town because of claims that children became sick from the mold.
Rep. Michelle L. Cook, D-Torrington, a member of the Education Committee and co-sponsor of the bill, said while Torrington has been using green clean products for a few years, she is unsure if 100 percent of the products are green. She said green clean products eliminate mold as well as their harsher counterparts at no extra cost to school districts.
"Their ability to fight things off is just as good, so you're not losing their strength or their potency by 'going green,' so to speak," Cook said.
The use of green products will eliminate harsh chemical aromas in school facilities that Cook said "often interfere with (a child's) educational learning experience."
"The bottom line was it was clearly about making safe schools and since a lot of the teachers as well as the students spend quite a lot of time in their school systems, you want to make sure they're as healthy as possible," Cook said.

Originally appeared 6/30/09 on pages 1A and 7A of the Republican-American, Waterbury CT ©

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