school

A Premature Plunge into the Gowanus Canal

By Marcia Anderson

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

When I was in EPA Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) I visited several schools that had questions about mold. This prompted a follow-up discussion with Mark Berry, EPA’s Region 6 (Serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes) Indoor Air Quality Coordinator about common mold questions resulting from these visits. An earlier blog looked at general questions about mold and moisture. Here, we focus on these issues in schools.

What are the most impacted areas in school buildings?

Areas without adequate air flow by themselves are not, necessarily the issue – it is areas where it is damp or humid and the airflow isn’t adequate enough to help dry up the moisture. Problem areas may be in the walls behind restrooms, kitchens, gyms, facility manager closets, near air conditioners, compressors and in damp basements. Moisture problems in schools may also be associated with delayed or insufficient maintenance due to budget and other constraints. Temporary structures, such as trailers and portable classrooms, have frequently been associated with moisture and mold problems. Most respiratory issues are associated with poor ventilation or outdated HVAC units. Mold is often targeted as the cause for illness, but, in fact, the mold is an indicator of moisture.

One area that is often impacted by mold and moisture problems in schools are gym locker rooms. Do you have any advice for school facility managers?

It is common for mold to grow on and around areas that are continuously wet. The moisture has a tendency to increase the relative humidity levels in a building, providing the perfect environment for mold and mold spores to grow.

  • Vent showers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside;
  • Control humidity levels and dampness by using air conditioners and de-humidifiers to provide adequate ventilation.
  • Maintain indoor humidity levels between 30-60 percent.
  • Students should remove clothing from their gym lockers at least weekly, and damp laundry, such as towels, should be removed daily.

For existing mold, the first step is to eliminate the moisture source, then take appropriate steps to clean it up. The EPA does not encourage the use of harsh chemicals for mold clean-up. Soap and water will suffice. These measures, along with monitoring for adequate ventilation, locker checks and educating students about the importance of following these guidelines, will go a long way to decreasing mold in your school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

What do we do if we suspect hidden mold?

Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when it involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.

What can building facility managers do to decrease the incidence of mold in their buildings?

EPA’s guidance is solutions based – to focus on the source of the moisture that feeds the mold. The three principles of mold remediation are:

  1. Fix and eliminate the moisture source.
  2. Clean and remove mold and mold spores. In many cases detergent and water will be sufficient – there is no need to use harsh chemicals that may endanger your health. Follow all manufacturer’s directions when using cleaning products.
  3. Dry out the area. If you continue to see mold growing, you have not eliminated the moisture source and should repeat step 1.

Does carpet cause mold or related allergy problems in schools?

Carpet use in schools provides a decrease in noise, falls and injuries. Mold problems can be encountered with carpet and many other materials if the school has any type of water intrusion or moisture problem, such as a leaky roof. If carpeting remains damp, it can become a primary source for microbial growth, which frequently results in adverse health effects. Carpet and other furnishings that become significantly water damaged should be removed and discarded. Use care to prevent excess moisture or cleaning residue accumulation and ensure that cleaned areas are dried quickly. In areas where there is a perpetual moisture, do not install carpeting (i.e., by drinking fountains, by classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).

How does mold affect asthma?

Molds can trigger asthma episodes in sensitive individuals with asthma. People with asthma should limit contact with and exposure to areas contaminated with a mold presence. However, remember that molds are a natural part of the environment – and it is impossible to totally avoid mold for asthmatics. EPA provides very useful information on mold and asthma.

How does mold remediation compare to Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?

IPM and mold remediation are both based on the principle of limiting sources of the primary needs for life – but they are very different practices. Molds are microscopic fungi that grow best in damp places such as kitchens, bathrooms and basements. Mold has the same basic needs as any pest: 1. Mold needs a surface to grow on; 2. Food (paper, wood, carpet, food, insulation or other organic fibers); and 3. Water (moisture to germinate and grow). IPM is similar, in that it employs common sense strategies to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in your school buildings. If just one of the essential components that a pest needs to survive can be removed, then the pest cannot survive. In the case of mold, remove the moisture. Mold problem solved.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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When it Rains, it Molds: Part 2 of 2

By Marcia Anderson

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

When I was in EPA Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) I visited several schools that had questions about mold. This prompted a follow-up discussion with Mark Berry, EPA’s Region 6 (Serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes) Indoor Air Quality Coordinator about common mold questions resulting from these visits. An earlier blog looked at general questions about mold and moisture. Here, we focus on these issues in schools.

What are the most impacted areas in school buildings?

Areas without adequate air flow by themselves are not, necessarily the issue – it is areas where it is damp or humid and the airflow isn’t adequate enough to help dry up the moisture. Problem areas may be in the walls behind restrooms, kitchens, gyms, facility manager closets, near air conditioners, compressors and in damp basements. Moisture problems in schools may also be associated with delayed or insufficient maintenance due to budget and other constraints. Temporary structures, such as trailers and portable classrooms, have frequently been associated with moisture and mold problems. Most respiratory issues are associated with poor ventilation or outdated HVAC units. Mold is often targeted as the cause for illness, but, in fact, the mold is an indicator of moisture.

One area that is often impacted by mold and moisture problems in schools are gym locker rooms. Do you have any advice for school facility managers?

It is common for mold to grow on and around areas that are continuously wet. The moisture has a tendency to increase the relative humidity levels in a building, providing the perfect environment for mold and mold spores to grow.

  • Vent showers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside;
  • Control humidity levels and dampness by using air conditioners and de-humidifiers to provide adequate ventilation.
  • Maintain indoor humidity levels between 30-60 percent.
  • Students should remove clothing from their gym lockers at least weekly, and damp laundry, such as towels, should be removed daily.

For existing mold, the first step is to eliminate the moisture source, then take appropriate steps to clean it up. The EPA does not encourage the use of harsh chemicals for mold clean-up. Soap and water will suffice. These measures, along with monitoring for adequate ventilation, locker checks and educating students about the importance of following these guidelines, will go a long way to decreasing mold in your school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

What do we do if we suspect hidden mold?

Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when it involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.

What can building facility managers do to decrease the incidence of mold in their buildings?

EPA’s guidance is solutions based – to focus on the source of the moisture that feeds the mold. The three principles of mold remediation are:

  1. Fix and eliminate the moisture source.
  2. Clean and remove mold and mold spores. In many cases detergent and water will be sufficient – there is no need to use harsh chemicals that may endanger your health. Follow all manufacturer’s directions when using cleaning products.
  3. Dry out the area. If you continue to see mold growing, you have not eliminated the moisture source and should repeat step 1.

Does carpet cause mold or related allergy problems in schools?

Carpet use in schools provides a decrease in noise, falls and injuries. Mold problems can be encountered with carpet and many other materials if the school has any type of water intrusion or moisture problem, such as a leaky roof. If carpeting remains damp, it can become a primary source for microbial growth, which frequently results in adverse health effects. Carpet and other furnishings that become significantly water damaged should be removed and discarded. Use care to prevent excess moisture or cleaning residue accumulation and ensure that cleaned areas are dried quickly. In areas where there is a perpetual moisture, do not install carpeting (i.e., by drinking fountains, by classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).

How does mold affect asthma?

Molds can trigger asthma episodes in sensitive individuals with asthma. People with asthma should limit contact with and exposure to areas contaminated with a mold presence. However, remember that molds are a natural part of the environment – and it is impossible to totally avoid mold for asthmatics. EPA provides very useful information on mold and asthma.

How does mold remediation compare to Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?

IPM and mold remediation are both based on the principle of limiting sources of the primary needs for life – but they are very different practices. Molds are microscopic fungi that grow best in damp places such as kitchens, bathrooms and basements. Mold has the same basic needs as any pest: 1. Mold needs a surface to grow on; 2. Food (paper, wood, carpet, food, insulation or other organic fibers); and 3. Water (moisture to germinate and grow). IPM is similar, in that it employs common sense strategies to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in your school buildings. If just one of the essential components that a pest needs to survive can be removed, then the pest cannot survive. In the case of mold, remove the moisture. Mold problem solved.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Want Kids to Do Better in School? This Environmental Approach Can Help

Schools are busy places, with bustling schoolyards, kitchens full of lunchboxes and trays, and kids and adults who constantly come and go. These busy environments can sometimes have pest problems that need to be addressed – like flies, spiders, yellow jackets, roaches and ants, for example.

As a parent, I know how important it is to me that my kids and their classmates have a healthy environment to learn, thrive and grow. Unhealthy school environments – including poor air quality — can affect children’s health, attendance, concentration and performance. Pest exposure can also trigger asthma, which can cause kids to miss class and a chance to learn.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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New England Students Recycle

Greetings from New England!Each Monday we write about the New England environment and way of life seen through our local perspective. Previous posts

by Jeri Weiss 

After cataloguing every pen and binder in my son’s school supply pile, we’re still left with a long list of things to buy before he heads back to college.  Could it be true that none of last year’s binders could be used again? Didn’t we just buy him a fan for his room last year? What happened to the extensions cords and that plastic bin for his extra school supplies?

Last week I saw how college students at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) are changing how we can think about back-to-school shopping.  A few years ago, a group of UNH students were appalled at the amount of furniture, clothing, and useful stuff being tossed out at the end of the school year.  They learned four times as much trash got picked up in May as in other months throughout the year.  They realized lots of stuff tossed out was in good condition.  And they saw thousands of items that could be cleaned and re-sold in the fall to a new crop of students.

The UNH students raised $9,000 and developed a plan to collect unwanted items in the spring and store them.  Student volunteers helped clean and organize items before the Trash 2 Treasure yard sale in fall. The first year the sale was in a tent and raised $12,000. The next year they needed a larger space and made $20,000. This year, the third Trash 2 Treasure sale was so big it was moved to the UNH Hockey Arena.

According to UNH, the sale diverted 45 tons of waste last year, bringing the total amount diverted over three years to 110 tons. This has saved UNH about $10,000 in disposal fees. The total raised over the three years was $54,000. Through the sale, parents and students saved about $216,000 at the sale.

This is Reuse at its finest.

The students who started the Trash 2 Treasure sale have expanded. They have gotten themselves a board of directors and advisors. They call themselves the Post-Landfill Action Network and hope to support other colleges and universities. Schools that don’t have similar programs can get funding and resources to start one. And the network will support schools that already have move-out programs to help them improve.

It’s great to see students taking action, and to watch as they work to help other colleges and universities reduce their waste.  Maybe next year my son will buy some gently used binders and plastic bins at his own school’s yard sale rather than buying new supplies he won’t need in a year.

Learn more about Post-Landfill Action Network: www.postlandfill.org.

UNH

About the author: Jeri Weiss works in EPA’s Boston office, where she is one of the region’s experts on recycling and waste management issues.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Back to School Time

Brittney Gordon-Williams

By: Brittney Gordon-Williams

Labor Day is upon us. Nothing illustrates the end of summer better than seeing kids back at the bus stop in the mornings, and if my Facebook feed is any indication, kids across the country are already strapping on those backpacks and heading back to class. For many parents, this time of year brings a sigh of relief, as the whole family gets back to a normal schedule. But, the coming of the new school year can also mean the return to higher energy costs. Here are a few ways that EPA can help your whole family save energy, save money and help prevent climate change as you head back to school.

  • These days kids of all ages use the computer to complete homework assignments, and your child will undoubtedly spend countless hours in front of the monitor. Make sure that your computer is ENERGY STAR certified, and you will use 30-65 percent less energy depending on how it is used. Take your energy-saving a step further and activate your computer’s power management settings. You can save up to $50 each year.
  • The return to school may also mean the return to late nights spent studying. Make sure that your family is saving energy as the kids burn the late night oil by using ENERGY STAR certified lighting. Bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR use 75 percent less energy and last 10 to 50 times longer. Cool fact: If you placed an ENERGY STAR certified LED in your child’s nursery room today, it would last until they were in college.
  • Do you have a student heading to college? Make sure they don’t forget all of the great energy-saving education you taught them, and be sure to look for the ENERGY STAR when outfitting their room. From TVs and soundbars to the mini-fridge and light bulbs, ENERGY STAR’s certified products have everything you need to make sure your student is being a good environmental steward, even when away from the nest.
  • Did you know that school buildings can earn the ENERGY STAR? In fact, Demarest Elementary in New Jersey won the ENERGY STAR National Building Competition last year, reducing its energy use by over 50 percent. Check out this year’s competition, and work with your child’s school to save energy all year long. Saving energy leads to saving money, which will add up to an even greater education for the students in your life.

Before the kids get too bogged down with homework, don’t forget to join Team ENERGY STAR! By joining the team, your family will get access to fun and educational resources from EPA to help make saving energy a lesson that lasts a lifetime.

Brittney Gordon-Williams is a member of the ENERGY STAR communications team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Outback

“Be very quiet, Heidi, and we might see some animals this morning.”  These are the words my father would tell me as he walked my older sister, Katie, and me to school.  Our local elementary school, Oscar Henry Anderson (OHA) Elementary School in Mahtomedi, Minnesota is surrounded by eleven acres of woods and prairie. Spending time in the woods with my father and sister are some of my best memories of elementary school.  On our morning walks we would find as many different plant species as we could and have contests to see who could pick out which bird was making each call. Things were constantly changing in the forest, and every day there would be something new to find. I want everyone to experience these things, this is what I had in mind when my dad, sister, and friends Andrew, Cole, Brennan and Davis, and I decided to create a nature playground for the children of OHA. We pulled gooseberry bushes, buck thorn, and barbed wire out of the area and constructed a natural barrier. We moved some logs that had been cut and pulled using the old style horse method into the area for the kids to play on.

I recently went back to OHA to ask the kids what they think about their new natural playground, called The Outback.  I sat down with Devon, who told me he likes going out there and building things.  I then talked to Johnny and Josh and asked them what their favorite place was, and Josh immediately answered that there is a tree stump that makes a perfect bench. I also chatted with Hailey, Eva, Alicia, and Zoe, and they all said that it was their favorite part of school. They told me the best part about The Outback is that everyone works together as a team and there is no fighting. They are accepting of each other and everyone is allowed to play. I think it is incredible that these kids are able to come together as one and have a good time.

The Outback is surrounded by a barrier of buckthorn and other branches so kids can’t wander off. It is near the school, yet secluded enough that the kids feel free. Overall the Outback teaches kids about the plants and animals that live near us and how to take care of the woods.  It inspires innovation and fosters creativity.

Heidi is a sophomore at Mahtomedi High School, Mahtomedi, MN, where she participates in cross country running, Nordic skiing, track, band and Eco Club. She enjoys being outside, especially fishing and hunting with her family and friends.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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My Experience as a Summer Intern at ENERGY STAR

Yohana Merho

By: Yohana Merho

For many college students summer is a time to take a well-deserved break from all-nighters, term papers and exam week stress, to go out and find something they are interested in. And if they are lucky, they may find something they could be passionate about as a career. I am a college student in my sophomore year at the University of Maryland, College Park studying Environmental Policy and Spanish. I am fortunate enough to really love my major, but I also know that I am not alone in that I am still unclear of how I want my education to translate in to my life post-grad. So, like most others in my position, I decided to take on an internship for the summer in hopes of learning about the many different roles and professions in the environmental sector that I might find appealing.

After several applications and emails I landed a sweet internship at ENERGY STAR. On my first day I was shown to my personal cubicle with my very own computer, phone and email. This whole ‘taking a sneak peak of the work force’ thing was beginning to feel a little like a reality now! Before I knew it I was going to meetings, working on assignments, doing research and feeling completely immersed in the ENERGY STAR work-culture.

One of my first and most interesting assignments was to prepare for a Congressional Expo that ENERGY STAR was to participate in. We were celebrating our 20th anniversary and my job was to make sure that our signs and posters reflected that through our statistics and general language. Soon after, I was told I was to work at the booth the day of the Expo, talking to other environmentalists about energy efficiency and other environmental issues. I was nervous, but very excited. I got to meet a lot of people, all working to better the environment through their individual professions, and I learned a lot from them.

My entire experience at ENERGY STAR has been a great learning experience. It was interesting to see and be a part of an entire office working independently as well as collectively to make a real difference in the fight against climate change. I had a chance to talk with several employees about their background and how they got to where they are now. I can say that I got exactly what I was hoping to get out of interning at EPA and much more. Who knows, maybe after I graduate I can help ENERGY STAR celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Yohana Merho is a college student in her sophomore year at the University of Maryland College Park. She is double majoring in Environmental Policy and Spanish and spent her 2012 summer interning at EPA’s ENERGY STAR.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green Apple Day of Service, How Cool!

A lot has changed since I’ve been in school. When I was in school we didn’t recycle, we didn’t have a rain garden or have native plants on school grounds. I doubt we had energy efficient lighting or created signs about environmental awareness.  Schools now are doing all those things and more. Private and public K-12 schools across the country can sign up to participate in the Center for Green Schools  Green Apple Day of Service .  On September 29, schools are encouraged to create a sustainability service project and work with their community to create positive environmental change. The hope is that the Green Apple Day of Service will create a lasting awareness of the importance of green schools. I was impressed with the amount of suggestions available. Hosting a bike tune up, conducting a water audit and even pulling weeds can count as projects.

What’s your school planning on doing September 29? I’d love to hear all about it.

Megan Gavin is the environmental education coordinator at EPA in Chicago. She lives across the street from one of the winners of the Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Don’t Let Your Child’s Summer Go To Waste

By Lina Younes

Summer is nearly here. Children are getting out of school. They are very happy to get away from tests, papers, and other school related tasks. However, we often see that over the summer months many students, especially in the lower grades, lose many of their academic skills during the extended time that they are away from school. So as parents, what are we to do?

Increasingly, there are many programs to encourage children to keep reading during the summer and camps to teach children special skills. Online you can also find a wealth of information, educational websites and games. However, there is another educational activity that might not readily come to mind, but is equally beneficial to a child’s well-being and learning experience. How about getting active and exploring the great outdoors? As children start exploring nature and outdoors activities, they awaken their innate curiosity and develop an interest in their surroundings and even in science. Those lessons stay with them throughout their life and may even lead to an interest in protecting the environment and pursing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers.

Just recently, as we were developing a Spanish webpage to highlight the contributions of Hispanic women scientists at EPA during Women in Science and Technology Month now in June, there was one thing that immediately stood out. Regardless of their background, these remarkable women all shared a love for the outdoors. They all described how as children they would explore nature and how they loved playing outside with their friends.

So, this summer, why don’t we take advantage of the opportunity now that we have more free time with our children to address the so called “nature deficit disorder” and pursue outdoor activities? I know we might hear some initial grumblings from our kids who may protest getting disconnected from all their electronic gadgets, but you’ll soon see how they embrace playing outside. Of course, we don’t all have a beautiful national park in our backyard, but I’m sure that there may be some hidden treasures in your local neighborhood that you can explore with your kids.

Any big plans for this summer? As always, we will love to hear from you.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Recycling at MorningSide

Colton picture

Hi my name is Colton, I’m 10 years old and I go to MorningSide Elementary. I got interested in recycling at home. We have been recycling as long as I can remember. When I was in first grade Ms. DeFranza talked to us about starting a recycling program. I’ve been doing it ever since. I also try to think of new ways to reuse things. At MorningSide we recycle paper, plastic and ink cartridges. I would like to talk to our principal about starting to recycle cans next.

My parents are really proud that I got involved in recycling at school. We all can help save the planet! I think when I grow up I’d like to be in animal research or engineering and design.

I have even gotten some of my friends involved in recycling at school! My little brother has started working with me and we recycle things at home.  What do you recycle at your school?

Colton is a 4th grade student at Morningside Elementary.  He enjoys reading, hanging out with his friends, and watching a good hockey game!

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.