California School District Cleans Up - With CLASS

By Rebecca Sutton, EWG Senior Scientist, in celebration of National Healthy Schools Day (April 26, 2010)

When school purchasing agent Dawn Everson came across a program called CLASS - "Cleaning for Asthma-Safe Schools" - she recognized a great opportunity for the Manteca Unified School District.

Manteca is in California's Central Valley - a region known for air quality problems. Sadly, this is reflected in its high rates of childhood asthma - 21 percent of the 23,000 children attending the district's schools report being diagnosed with this chronic disease.

Toxic cleaners dirty classroom air Last fall, Environmental Working Group (EWG) conducted classroom air pollution tests that showed that many traditional cleaners foul classroom air by emitting toxic pollutants. The good news is we also found that cleaning classrooms with certified green cleaning supplies means cleaner, healthier air for students, teachers and custodians.

California's CLASS program offers a way to clean up the schools, and the air inside them, by switching to cleaning products certified not to release toxic chemicals, giving students and staff relief from one possible source of their illness. CLASS is offered by the California Department of Public Health's Work-Related Asthma Prevention Program and the Green Schools Initiative (one of EWG's partners), with technical assistance from the Green Purchasing Institute.

Manteca Unified tries green cleaners - and likes them Just in time for National Healthy Schools Day today (April 26), EWG interviewed Manteca's staff to find out how their efforts are panning out.

"Our district has been working toward 'green' in many areas," noted Everson, the purchasing agent. With CLASS' support, she organized educational sessions with the custodial staff to enlist volunteers to try out certified green cleaners.

"We found out we had several custodians with asthma and we didn't even know it," Everson said. Some custodians reported that they felt wheezy and sick when using some cleaning supplies, so much so that they tended to wait until the end of their shifts to use them.

Custodial staff at six schools decided to try out certified green cleaning supplies from two different vendors. At the end of each two-week trial period, they answered surveys on how well the products performed and if they felt any irritation or allergic reactions while using them.

Manteca is now halfway through these pilot tests, and the initial results are dramatic. Preliminary surveys indicate that the green cleaners may work better than the schools' traditional cleaning supplies and don't leave behind odors or residues, which had been a common problem. Even custodians who had been expected to be particularly loyal to traditional cleaners have given the certified green products glowing evaluations.

Green cleaners can save schools money As a purchasing agent, Everson said cost is a key concern - as it is for all schools. To her delight, Manteca's pilot program has demonstrated that green cleaners can actually save money.

Certified green cleaning supplies come highly concentrated and must be diluted on the job, a practice that reduces environmental impacts from packaging and shipping. A single bottle of a certified green product can be more expensive than its non-green competitors, but diluting it properly means that schools get a lot more cleaning out of each bottle - and more bang for the buck.

Adding up the numbers, Everson found that green cleaning was a definite money saver. "It's exciting for me to see that we can get a quality product that's going to cost us less and clean just as well or better," she told EWG.

Interested in green cleaning at your school? Whether you're a concerned parent or work at a school, the time to get behind the green choice is now. Everson noted that one barrier schools face in making the switch is time: scheduling educational and training meetings for busy custodians and selecting and testing products can take a while. Start today, and the kids at your schools will be breathing cleaner air that much quicker!

Get started by downloading EWG's green cleaning fact sheet, sample parent letter to school staff, and a list of steps you can take to encourage your school to start cleaning greener.

More resources from EWG partners

[Thanks to Flickr CC & Robert S. Donovan for the colorful cleaning closet]

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