We all know a healthy school environment is vital for learning. When you consider that between students, teachers, and staff, one in five Californians spend their day at a school, it becomes clear just how important school environments are to the health of families all across the state. Unfortunately, environmental health concerns in California’s classrooms are all too common, especially in low-income communities and communities of color – often the same communities we find the most glaring health inequities in conditions such as asthma.
Ironically, some of these concerns stem from the very products used to keep the school clean. School children and staff are unnecessarily exposed to chemicals commonly found in traditional cleaning products. These chemicals have been linked to asthma and other respiratory problems, cancer, reproductive and neurological harm, and hormone disruption, as well as environmental concerns such as water pollution, smog, and damage to the ozone layer.
The good news is that proactive school districts across the state have developed strategies for improving student and staff health and reducing their impact on the environment. One strategy that has repeatedly proven successful is transitioning to the use of certified green cleaning products. Regional Asthma Management and Prevention’s (RAMP) report, Breathing Easier, provides case studies of three school districts in California that have transitioned to certified green cleaning products and away from the traditional cleaning products that often contain chemicals that can trigger or even cause asthma. Certified green cleaning products restrict use of the most harmful ingredients including those that can cause asthma. Making the switch is an effective step toward creating healthier, asthma-friendly schools.
If you are interested in seeing green cleaning implemented in your school, here are three tools that can help:
- The Green School Initiative’s Green Cleaning Toolkit contains a range of resources to help a school implement green cleaning, including fact sheets, case studies, and sample policies.
- Through guides, videos, and other resources, the California Department of Public Health – Occupational Health Branch’s Cleaning for Asthma-Safe Schools (CLASS) can help school staff consider the benefits of green cleaning and overcome some of the challenge in developing a local green cleaning program.
- The California School Environmental Health and Asthma Collaborative (SEHAC)’s Asthma QuickTake, Improved School Health through Asthma-Safer Cleaning, is a short, instructional video on green cleaning designed for school staff.
- RAMP’s Green Cleaning in Schools: A Guide for Advocates offers a road map to establishing a green cleaning program in your school.
We know that schools continue to face challenges on all fronts, from budget cuts and aging facilities to achievement and class size. That is why it is as important as ever to support efforts to ensure safe and healthy school environments so that students can learn and teachers can teach. We invite you to join the many parents, students, custodians, teachers, and school districts across the state and country that are already taking action to create healthier school environments. There are many resources available to help you get started, so start planning your actions for making your school a green and healthy school – every day!