Canadian children spend a significant amount of time in schools — approximately 1,600 hours per year in primary and secondary schools.
With kids in school for an average of 18 years, one can only imagine the time spent inside a school environment during their formative years.
We need to ensure that all schools are free of indoor environmental pollutants and irritants that could affect the health and productivity of students and staff.
Switching to green cleaning products in schools can reduce these child health concerns, and often eliminate the symptoms brought on by chemicals found in traditional cleaning products.
There’s a growing body of evidence making a connection between how well children perform in school and life and toxins in their environment.
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Problems
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, occupants of buildings with poor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) report a wide range of health problems which are known as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) or Tight Building Syndrome (TBS), Building-Related Illness (BRI) and Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS).
SBS is used to describe cases in which building occupants experience adverse health effects that are apparently linked to the time they spend in the building.
However, no specific illnesses or cause can be identified.
BRI refers to less frequent (but often more serious) cases of people becoming ill after being in a specific building at a certain time.
Figures are hard to come by, but studies have estimated that a third or more of Canadian schools have mold, dust and other indoor air problems serious enough to provoke respiratory issues like asthma in students and teachers.
A national survey of school nurses found that 40 percent knew of children and staff who were adversely affected by indoor pollutants.1
A growing body of research suggests students also perform better in schools with healthier air.
Indoors, factors such as mold, mildew, dust, asbestos and formaldehyde can affect indoor air quality and trigger various allergies and asthma.
Asthma alone accounts for 14 million missed school days each year.
The rate of asthma has risen by 160 percent in the last 15 years and today, one in every 13 school-age children has asthma.2
Indoor air contaminants can originate either within the school building or be drawn in from outdoors.
If pollutant sources are not controlled, IAQ problems can arise, even if the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system and other building components are properly operated and maintained.
Exposure to these contaminants is especially high in Canada with long cold winters that increase the need to stay indoors and the need for well-insulated indoor environments.
Asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism in school children in both Canada and the U.S.
Frequent, short absences from school due to asthma seem more detrimental to academic performance than occasional long absences for other reasons.
In addition, indoor air pollutant levels can vary by time and location within the school building, or even within a single classroom.
Each school should consider developing policies on fragrance-free products in consultation with provincial and territorial authorities.
Symptoms associated with poor IAQ include classic irritation symptoms — headaches, dizziness, hyperactivity, fatigue, memory loss, short attention span and moodiness.
Facility flooring plays an important role in IAQ.
IAQ improves when hard-surface floors are maintained with a program that includes daily sweeping, cleaning and maintenance to capture and remove dust particles from the indoor environment.
Hazardous chemicals found in conventional cleaning products can also trigger asthma and allergy attacks.
Whether it is skin or odor sensitivity, these factors do not help the students and/or teachers while they are in school.
These symptoms, at the very least, are believed to interfere with students’ concentration and ultimately their school performance.
At a time when the number of students with asthma has reached new highs — and when cities and school boards are increasingly focused on the importance of maximum attendance — the emergence of new, greener cleaning technologies including sustainable floor care products and processes for cleaning and maintaining schools are now making it possible to provide significantly healthier buildings for students and staff.
And it can be done without burdening school budgets.
Choosing Cleaning Products
Taking the time to do your research will enable you to find the right cleaning program to suit your needs and budget.
For example, look for third-party certifications.
UL Environment UL (Ecologo) is widely known as the premiere mark of environmental standards.
Also, it is important to review each product’s Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for ingredients that may harm the user.
The MSDS sheets are important in that they provide you with instructions regarding proper handling and storage of the products, how to protect yourself from exposure and the type of measures and clothing to use for personal protection.
MSDS act as a tool to gauge how sustainable a product really is.
Finally, ask for proper training from your cleaning solution provider.
A regular sanitation program is necessary to ensure high IAQ as it helps to remove contaminants from the building environment.
Cleaning not only gives your school a positive aesthetic, but it is essential to ensure the optimal performance of students, as well as teachers, administrators, custodians and other school staff.
To fully reap the rewards of a sustainable sanitation program, safer alternatives to traditional cleaning products should be used.
In addition to benefits provided by traditional cleaning, green cleaning promotes health, safety and social consciousness.
When choosing green cleaning products, it is important to be aware of the different options on the market, as not all green cleaning products are created equal.
Therefore, it is important to do the research in order to ensure that you have chosen the best products for your needs.
The products you choose should meet the following criteria:
It is worth noting that even “green” chemicals can be harmful if not used properly.
For example, most of the exposed limits included in the UL (EcoLogo) Standard is based on an assumption that products will be diluted properly.
If they are not, some of the UL (EcoLogo) certified products — or the products certified by other rating organizations — may be hazardous.
Outstanding customer service, support and training can be as important as the right cleaning solution.
Look for a company who offers added value, tools and support in the form of hands-on training, sanitation programs, wall charts, proper labels and MSDS.
These tools are an integral part of the process of going green because the products you choose will enable you to be a responsible leader in your community without compromising your health, the health of those around you, and that of future generations.
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Since 1998, Paul Goldin has been involved in all aspects of Avmor’s business including marketing, research and development, government regulation, sales, customer service and operations. He is currently vice president of sustainability and marketing. Goldin was a driving force in ensuring that Avmor obtained ISO 14001:2004 certification for environmental management and became a leader in sustainable cleaning. Under his stewardship, Avmor has obtained Ecologo certification for over 50 products.