Schools: Purchasing Environmentally Preferable Products

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Why It's Important

  • Chemicals enter schools in a variety of ways, including regular purchases by teachers and facility maintenance personnel, donations from local industries, test chemicals from suppliers and learning kits.
  • Creating a purchasing policy helps you meet your school's educational and facility maintenance needs while reducing the quantities and toxicity of the chemicals.
  • It is a common misconception that toxic and hazardous chemicals must be used to properly teach certain subject areas. Often there are safer alternatives which may be used to teach the same technical concepts.

What You Can Do

  • Manage chemicals in the school by identifying:
    • How chemicals enter the school
    • Who uses them (e.g., teachers, maintenance personnel) and why they are being used
  • Establish a purchasing policy to review and approve all products brought into the school. Decisions should take into account need, use, safety, environmental factors and product management life cycle costs.
  • Encourage small-scale chemistry experiments and seek products that have a reduced effect on human health and the environment.
  • Look for the Safer Choice label on products. The Safer Choice label helps you quickly identify and choose products that help protect the environment and are safer for families.
  • Refer to Section III: Policies and Actions(13pp, 350K, About PDF) of EPA’s Chemical Management Resource Guide for School Administrators for more.

EPA and Federal Partners

  • Safer Choice Choice is an EPA program through which a scientific review team screens the ingredients of products for potential human health and environmental effects. The Safer Choice label means the product contains only those ingredients that pose the least concern among chemicals in their class.
  • The Household Products Database enables scientists and consumers to research products based on chemical ingredients by linking over 6,000 consumer brands to health effects from Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs). Schools can use the database to identify the toxicity and health effects of chemical ingredients in a specific product. It is maintained by the National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine.
  • The Green Cleaning Pollution Prevention Calculator Exit developed by EPA, quantifies the projected environmental benefits of purchasing and using "green" janitorial services and products. It is designed to forecast the environmental benefits of reducing chemical use by doing some or all pollution prevention measures typically involved in the routine interior cleaning of an office building. This tool also enables users to identify which green cleaning measures will have the greatest impact in reducing their use of hazardous chemicals and in preventing pollution.
  • The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards is intended as a source of general industrial hygiene information on several hundred chemicals/classes for workers, employers and occupational health professionals. The information found in the Pocket Guide can help users recognize and control chemical hazards.

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National Organizations

  • Green Seal is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the environment by promoting the manufacture and sale of environmentally responsible consumer products. It sets environmental standards and awards a "Green Seal of Approval" to products that cause less harm to the environment than other similar products.
  • The Green Chemical Alternatives Purchasing Wizard, created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, enables the user to search for common laboratory solvents and identify less hazardous and more environmentally benign chemicals or processes that may be substituted, and provides journal references and links to information that is available online.
  • Where to Find Material Safety Data Sheets on the Internet explains what a material safety data sheet (MSDS) is and helps users search for MSDS resources by product or manufacturer. An MSDS is a comprehensive fact sheet prepared by chemical manufacturers that describes the physical properties, health effects and other characteristics of chemicals, as well as procedures for handling, storing and disposing chemicals.

Regional, State and Local Resources

  • Sensible Steps for Healthier School Environments by EPA provides an overview of issues related to educational, art and science supplies in schools.
  • The Product Review Database, maintained by the Los Angeles (California) Unified School District, offers a searchable database of over 6,000 products evaluated by the district's Office of Environmental Health and Safety to determine their suitability for use in and around Los Angeles schools.
  • New York's Green Cleaning Program, operated by the New York State Office of General Services, presents best practices and a list of approved green cleaning products. A toolkit also describes five steps to a green cleaning program and offers online training courses and customizable documents and templates.
  • Chemical Safe Schools in Rhode Island are presentation slides that highlight the state’s school chemical program; discusses utilizing schools resources, such as the chemical hygiene officer and business officers; and mentions accessing outside resources, such as local health and safety officers and fire marshals.