Before the Joint Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs Committee
by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Policy Advocate for Toxics
Good afternoon Senator Bowman, Representative Norton and members of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. My name is Matt Prindiville. I am the Toxics Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). NRCM is Maine’s leading, membership supported environmental advocacy organization. We represent over 10,000 members and supporters and work on a variety of issues including energy, land conservation, river restoration and toxic pollution.
NRCM supports LD 88 and encourages the Committee to vote “Ought to Pass” on this bill with suggestions for improvements. We thank Senator Bartlett for bringing this issue to the attention of the Committee.
Proper management of toxic materials is increasingly standard operating procedure in work places as a means of maintaining occupational health and safety, preventing environmental degradation and avoiding liability. Minimizing exposure to dangerous chemicals is especially important in our schools because children are particularly vulnerable to toxic hazards. As a health biologist might put it, children are sensitive receptors for toxic materials. Regular exposure to toxic chemicals has been implicated in a variety of childhood health problems including learning disabilities, and increased incidences of childhood cancer and asthma. Whatever beneficial role toxic materials may serve in some settings; we should do all that we can to help children avoid contact and exposure to these materials.
We believe this resolve is a good first step towards minimizing children’s exposure to toxic chemicals in cleaning products. With regards to the provisions contained in the resolve, we have the following comments:
First, we believe that the pesticides measure contained in the bill could be construed as redundant and therefore unnecessary. Maine schools are required by law to use Integrated Pest Management Policies to deal with unwanted pests. All schools are required to appoint a properly-trained IPM coordinator to implement, evaluate and monitor all pest problems and pesticide applications. Without going into too much detail, IPM policies recommend using non-toxic pest control methods first, using the least toxic pesticides and using them only when necessary. Additional requirements include detailed reporting, proper notification of staff and parents and application when students and staff are not in the buildings (i.e. summer vacation).
We believe that Maine’s school IPM policies are good model policy and should serve as a proven example for proper chemicals management in schools.
II. Cleaning Chemicals
The most important part of this resolve concerns cleaning supplies. Janitorial workers, students, teachers and the environment all suffer from the adverse impacts of toxic cleaning chemicals.
The chemicals contained in traditional cleaners can cause a range of health effects from numbness in the extremities and lung irritation to severe burns and neurological damage (1). Some chemicals and fragrances in cleaners can also cause or exacerbate asthma. The chemicals contained in cleaners are particularly worrisome because using cleaners exposes janitorial staff and building occupants to these chemicals. (With other products, exposure to the toxic substances occurs primarily if the product is misused; with cleaners, some level of exposure is nearly unavoidable).
Cleaning for health (green cleaning) is a practice that addresses toxic substances contained in cleaning products. Green cleaning substitutes traditional cleaners with those that contain fewer or less-toxic substances. Switching from traditional cleaning products to biodegradable, low-toxicity, or otherwise less harmful products can drastically improve the environmental profile of routine cleaning activities without sacrificing cleaning effectiveness (2).
In general, green cleaning products cost about the same as traditional products, and they clean as effectively. Long-term costs analyses indicate that using these environmentally-preferable products can save purchasers money and boost productivity for workers on the job (3). For our schools, using less-toxic cleaning products could translate into increased performance for our teachers and students.
In order to boost the effectiveness of the resolve, NRCM recommends that the committee adopt the following recommendations:
1) Direct DOE to collaborate with DEP to develop green cleaning program. DEP has been working with the Governors Task Force on Safer Chemicals in Consumer Products and Services to draft and implement green cleaning standards for state office facilities. DEP has the necessary expertise, and any project to draft and implement green cleaning programs should be done in collaboration. This work involves identifying cleaners that contain fewer or less-toxic chemicals, specifying performance requirements for cleaning products, phasing out known hazards and specifying the permissible amounts of toxic chemicals that can be contained in cleaners.
2) Direct and specify collaborative outreach. DOE should consult with the DEP on the relevant and necessary outreach to Maine schools. This work involves facility visits, providing information about green cleaning products and practices, describing the steps that lead to a successful program, and helping schools establish full-fledged green cleaning programs.
3) Direct schools to assign chemical hygiene coordinators based on successful IPM program. Schools are currently required by law to have properly-trained chemical hygiene coordinators administering chemicals purchasing, use, storage and disposal. However, from what we understand many schools are not in compliance. DOE should work with DEP to ensure that schools have designated chemical hygiene coordinators – which could be integrated into the roles of existing IPM coordinators – to administer all purchasing, use, storage and disposal of chemicals used for education, health and maintenance purposes. These chemical hygiene coordinators should be properly trained in chemical hygiene, environmentally-preferable purchasing and relevant storage and disposal procedures.
4) Require DOE to report to the Education Committee on school participation. As DOE will be compiling a list of schools who adopt green cleaning programs, they should report to the Committee on progress in 2008. If the committee is unsatisfied with the level of school participation, you could require schools to adopt green cleaning practices through legislation as you have with Integrated Pest Management practices.
LD 88 is a good step forward towards minimizing children’s exposure to toxic chemicals at school. The pesticides measure may be redundant, but the green cleaning provision is relevant and timely.
We urge you to adopt this legislation to protect our schools, students, teachers and staff.
The issue of toxic chemicals and their improper use and storage in Maine’s schools is not new to NRCM or the Maine Department of Education. In August of 2004, we learned that many Maine schools kept a large array of hazardous materials onsite. These hazardous materials were found in: storage areas like the janitor’s closet; science labs; art classes; industrial engineering; and automotive and wood shops. In the spring of 2005, we supported L.D. 1157, An Act To Protect Children from Toxic Chemicals in Schools, heard before the Joint Committee on Natural Resources, which would have created dedicated funding to clean out Maine schools and implement statewide chemical hygiene policies to monitor chemical inventories, promote the use of safer chemicals and restrict the use of known toxic hazards. The bill was turned into a resolve, directing DOE and DEP to enforce the existing regulations by notifying the schools of their responsibilities under the law.
From what we understand, schools are still using, stockpiling and improperly storing toxic, flammable and explosive chemicals in science labs, facilities closets and nursing stations. Some progress has been made since the legislature approved the 2005 resolve, but more is needed. We now know that many Maine schools still need assistance with hazardous materials management. It is imperative that the Legislature address this problem before an accident forces action upon us. We would be happy to work with the committee to draft legislation to properly address this issue.