Schools-Safer Schools-Creating safe learning environments for our children


In 2003, a student’s discovery of 8.5 fluid ounces of elemental mercury in an unlocked chemistry cabinet forced a high school in Washington, D.C., to close for 35 days. The cleanup cost more than $1 million.

In August 2008, a school janitor spilled two gallons of hydrochloric acid at the Edison Technical and Occupational Education Center in Rochester, N.Y. One employee inhaled the fumes and had to be taken to the hospital for evaluation.

From elementary school maintenance closets to high school chemistry labs, outdated, unknown or unneeded amounts of hazardous or inappropriate chemicals are found in K-12 schools across the nation, poten­tially putting students and staff at risk.

Learning about the chemistry in the world around us is essen­tial to a well-rounded education, yet many lab chemicals, if mismanaged, can be hazardous to students and school staff. Ceramics kilns are sometimes vented directly into schools, releasing carbon monoxide, metal fumes and ozone. The use of flammable and volatile products by maintenance staff can pose fire safety issues and affect the indoor air quality.

Other potential hazards found in public schools have included:

—cyanide salts

—water reactive metals such as sodium, lithium and potassium


—flammable materials such as paint thinner

—radioactive materials such as thorium nitrate and uranium tetrachloride

In addition to the presence of hazardous materials, more risk comes when school staff is not properly trained in the hazards associated with them, and where there is a lack of protective equipment or health and safety practices.

With over 97,000 public schools and more than 63 million students and teachers, the potential for problems is becoming clearer.

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Responsible Care companies are working with local school districts to clean out our schools and help them to properly manage their chemicals.

The Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign

The Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign, known as SC3, creates a safer learning environment by helping schools remove improperly stored or outdated chemicals, prevent unnecessary chemical accumulations and raise awareness of safety precautions.

SC3 programs around the country are making a big impact. To date, SC3 programs have:

—cleaned out over 650 schools, affecting more than 685,000 students

—removed more than 100,000 pounds of chemicals

—trained over 1,800 teachers and administrators

“ACC is pleased to be a part of this important initiative,” said Cal Dooley, ACC’s President and CEO. “ACC members and Responsible Care Partners have the know­ledge to help schools manage chemicals responsibly and are uniquely positioned to work with federal and state partners to teach school staff how to implement effective and efficient chemical management.”

Working together, the government and experienced private industry partners of SC3 are helping achieve sustainable chemical management programs by working with schools to:

—provide training on planning and budgeting for chemical purchases, management and disposal

—establish a chemical management plan

—conduct periodic chemical inventories to identify hazards

—train school representatives on how to establish environmentally preferable pur­chasing policies

—encourage schools to use the smallest amounts of the least hazardous chemicals

—offer hazardous chemicals management and safety training for school staff

If you have concerns about the chemical safety of your local school, there are things you can do. Parents can help their school create a healthy learning environment by:

—working as part of a team with school administrators, teachers, and others to identify priority issues and address environmental health issues

—identifying and recommending com­munity partners who may be able to lend expertise to address the issue of chemicals in school

—evaluating the chemicals (i.e., art supplies, cleaners, etc.) you contribute to the school environment for risk and necessity

Chemical cleanout and prevention programs prevent fires and spills, protect the environ­ment and save money. But most importantly, they protect our children and the people who work with them every day.

To learn more about SC3 programs and to find out how you can get involved, visit

20 Years of Responsible Care

American chemistry makes the products that make modern life possible, while working to promote the environment, public health and national security. Since 1988, members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC) have signifi­cantly improved their environmental, health, safety and security performance through the Responsible Care initiative.

Using a modern management system, Responsible Care companies undergo a mandatory certification by indepen­dent, accredited auditing firms. Their progress is made publicly available.

Responsible Care companies also work with their customers, carriers, suppliers, distributors and contractors to foster the safe use, transport and disposal of chemicals.

These companies committed to pre­serving resources for future generations through reducing emissions, conserving energy and developing sustainable materials, technologies and business practices.

To learn more, visit

School girl photo credit: Photo courtesy of Foto

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