With New York poised to become the first state in the nation to adopt a comprehensive green cleaning policy for its schools, a growing number of children’s health advocates are uniting behind a campaign to demand that the state acknowledge the unique vulnerability of children and utilize standards for green cleaning in schools which are more stringent than those developed for adults.
Draft guidelines announced several weeks ago by the Office of General Services (OGS) are based on an adult standard known as GS-37, which was developed in 1999 for workers in factories and offices buildings. Under these guidelines, schools would be permitted to continue the use of cleaning products that trigger asthma attacks and are suspected of interfering with normal developmental processes.
“These outdated standards were never intended to protect children, pregnant women, [and] other sensitive populations,” says Patti Wood, executive director of Port Washington, NY-based Grassroots Environmental Education, a non-profit group spearheading the new campaign. “While they afford some basic protections, we need additional criteria if we expect to protect children. That’s why we’re asking for ‘GS-Plus.’ ”
The GS-Plus campaign (www.gs-plus.org) is designed to help parents, teachers, staff, and other children’s health advocates understand the issues and use e-mail to send comments to OGS during the public comment period, which ends on May 3.
“We’re pleased that the state is moving in a positive direction, but we’re disappointed that the guidelines are not more protective,” says Wendy Hord, health and safety specialist for New York State United Teachers, which is supporting the campaign for stricter standards. “We’re particularly concerned about the continued use of floor maintenance products, which are very toxic; their use has resulted in many of our members being adversely affected.”
Fortunately, the demand for cleaning products which are safe and effective has stimulated the market, and several school districts in the state, including districts in Baldwin, Great Neck, Greenburgh, Scarsdale, and Port Washington are already using green cleaning products which far exceed the guidelines announced by OGS.
“In approaching the green cleaning issue, we felt that the only level of a toxic material any child should be exposed to is zero,” says David Kincaid, health and safety director of the Great Neck Public Schools. “People told us we couldn’t do it, but we did. We are supporters of the attitude that you can do it and should do it.”
According to pediatric health experts, children are at greater risk from environmental exposures because of their rapidly developing physiology and their typical behavioral patterns. Children also breathe faster than adults, increasing their sensitivity to airborne toxins. Asthma, in particular, is exacerbated by exposure to certain cleaning chemicals.
“Children are completely dependent on adults to make the right choices for them,” says Wood. “We’re hoping to send a strong message to the OGS that we won’t compromise when it comes to children’s health.”
This information was provided by the Port Washington, NY-based Grassroots Environmental Education, a non-profit organization dedicated to researching and disseminating information about pesticides and other toxins, and their impact on human health and the environment. To find out more, visit (http://grassrootsinfo.org).