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A healthier, greener back-to-school

Polished floors, shiny desks, pristine chalkboards — summer break is ending, and across the country kids are heading back to school. But they might also be heading back to something else: Nonylphenol ethoxylates. Volatile organic compounds that pollute the air. Petroleum-derived surfactants. I know — they’re not on our spelling list, either.

For years, schools across the country — which 55 million people enter each day — have been stocked and cleaned with chemicals that do more than keep the floors shiny and the whiteboards clean. Look through a janitor’s closet, and you might find reproductive toxins, carcinogens, and asthma inducers: all used in the daily environments of our kids, whose systems are especially vulnerable. But luckily, things are changing.

Today, eleven states have legislation in place requiring “green cleaning” in schools. New Jersey and Colorado also have executive orders that direct state buildings, including schools, to choose green cleaners as part of their purchasing policies. And an additional five states introduced green cleaning legislation in 2015.

The data is rolling in, showing that 21st century cleaning products can do the job without harsh chemicals—and can even out-perform more toxic methods for controlling dust and bacteria. Schools that use third-party certified green cleaners and practices to improve indoor air can cut air pollution from cleaning chemicals with as much as 90% reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

What’s more, improvements in air quality can make a measurable difference for students and staff. The Carnegie Mellon Center for Building Performance identified 17 studies that all found positive health impacts from green cleaning and indoor air programs. Other studies find significant reductions in illness and absenteeism and improvements in oral reading fluency and test scores.

And the health of our kids isn’t the only thing we’re saving. As it turns out, these green cleaners can shave 10-20% off the cost of cleaning by requiring fewer products for the job and concentrated solutions. Green schools are yet another example of how states are leading the way with health and environmental policies that work.

All kids deserve a healthy classroom where they can breathe easy and reach their full potential. We’re all looking forward to a future where these policies are law across the country. But until that happens, we’ll be on the lookout for more and more states to join in, and pass green school policies across the country. Is your state on the list?

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