Green Cleaning: Work in Progress

President Bush signs bill on healthful schools.

The year 2007 ended with some wonderful news for schools and universities. Contained under Subtitle E of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 were requirements for healthful, high-performance schools.

Among other things, the bill authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop model guidelines for environmental health in schools. The agency will receive $10 million over five years to develop the guidelines, and $1 million over five years to look at the health and performance impacts associated with healthful schools.

The bill calls for technical assistance from the EPA's Tools for Schools and the Healthy School Environmental Assessment Tool (HealthySEAT) programs to address environmental issues. It also calls on states to develop and enact school environmental-health programs that include standards for school building design, construction and renovation.

One component of the standards focuses on school site selection and requires states to develop voluntary guidelines within 18 months. These guidelines must account for the greater vulnerability of children to hazardous substances or pollution; modes of transportation available to students and staff; the efficient use of energy; and the potential use of a school site as an emergency shelter.

One challenging aspect of the bill is identifying ongoing school building environmental problems. The bill requires schools to identify contaminants, hazardous substances and pollutant emissions. And it says that states must develop recommended solutions to address those problems, including assessment of information on the exposure of children to environmental hazards in school facilities.

The bill requires that environmental problems, contaminants, hazardous substances and pollutant emissions be taken into account. The law specifically mentions daylighting; ventilation choices and technologies; heating and cooling choices and technologies; moisture control and mold; maintenance, cleaning and pest-control activities; and acoustics.

All of these issues are important, and the resulting information should provide better strategies for building and operating healthful schools and universities. However, the amount of funding to develop the guidelines is inadequate; school advocates should urge Congress to boost funding so that states and schools can meet requirements.

With additional information, schools and universities will be able to help communities understand the need for appropriately funding schools. Most likely when all is said and done, very little “new” information will be discovered. But the value of having well-researched and objective information may be just the solution to help get the funding.

Ashkin is executive director of the Green Cleaning Network, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational organization.  

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