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The EPA's School Chemical Cleanout Campaign

By Landon Pruitt, RCRA Materials Management
Environmental Protection Agency
Atlanta, GA

From elementary school maintenance closets to high school chemistry labs, educational institutions use a variety of chemicals that, when mismanaged, can place students, personnel, and property at risk of spills, fires, and other accidental exposures. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) School Chemical Cleanout Campaign (SC3) team diligently protects students and teachers through its program. By promoting chemical inventories, removal of large unneeded quantities of dangerous chemicals, and training handlers in appropriate chemical management, the SC3 helps create and maintain a healthy learning environment for today's youth and helps safeguard those who endeavor to educate them.

Figure 1 Dangerous chemicals are identified in SC3 inventories.

Although work on the program began in 2004, the SC3 formally launched nationwide in March 2007. It builds on previous work of state and local governments and pilot projects that the EPA supported through grants. The SC3 operates through the EPA designated regions within the US and assigned a regional SC3 lead to each. Now, all across the country schools are implementing facets of the SC3 program with much success.

One example of a regional SC3 program

The results to date of the ongoing implementation of the SC3 program in a single region, 4- the Southeast-is an example of what is happening in schools as they implement the SC3 program across the country. The Region 4 SC3 program seeks to address the issue of chemical management in schools by not only eliminating excess, legacy, unused, and improperly stored chemicals but also implementing preventive education programs in schools. Its collaborative efforts have safely removed over 259,000 lb of chemicals from 640 schools across the Southeast Region, creating a cleaner, healthier learning environment for over 283,000 students since 2004. The Region 4 SC3 team's efforts have also resulted in removal of over 2,875 lb of priority chemical toxic heavy metals, such as mercury, and over 57,500 lb of known or suspected carcinogens, such as formaldehyde, from schools in the region.

What's the initial step when implementing the SC3 program?

The SC3 program recommends first and foremost that teachers create a chemical inventory of everything in their closets and labs. Many schools possess donated chemicals, inherited legacy chemicals, and other chemicals that are poorly labeled but are still passed along from teacher to teacher. Even poorly or not-at-all labeled chemicals are identifiable with proper knowledge or assistance.

Through the inventory, teachers discover unknown potential chemical dangers (see Fig. 1), multiples of rarely needed chemicals, and, usually, that they are responsible for much more than anticipated. It's hard to correctly manage a situation without thorough knowledge of it. After the inventory, teachers can make much more educated decisions concerning their particular lab chemical situations-from simply correctly arranging the chemical closet to having a professional safely pack the chemicals for travel (see Fig. 2) and transfer to a regulated hazardous waste facility.

Figure 2 Chemicals being safely packaged for travel.

Who's on board in the Southeast?

The current Southeast Region state environmental departments with active SC3 programs are Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama. Each of these states is able to provide different services for its schools. The SC3 team encourages teachers to contact their state environmental departments to request available help in the SC3 as well as with other children's health issues.

What you can do

Although the aforementioned states are the only ones in the Southeast with active SC3 programs, any school across the nation has opportunities to improve chemical management within its science programs. We encourage all science teachers to visit our Web site for the Region 4 SC3 or the National SC3 for contact information and more on SC3 opportunities. There is always more we can do to create safer learning environments and protect our children's health.

You can reach author Landon Pruitt-EPA R4, RCRA Materials Management-here.