by Linda Rutsch, Outreach and Education Coordinator, Safer Choice Program, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
I’ve been fortunate that much of my career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has involved working with schools. My two daughters are teachers, and in EPA’s Safer Choice program, my work focuses on schools. The Safer Choice label helps consumers, commercial buyers, and institutions, like schools, identify cleaning and other products that are safer for people and the environment. Using cleaning products with safer chemical ingredients can help schools maintain a healthy and safe learning environment, which is important to attendance and academic performance.
So how do products with the Safer Choice label help schools? Every chemical, regardless of percentage, in a Safer Choice-labeled product is evaluated through EPA’s rigorous scientific criteria and only the safest ingredients are allowed. Only products that meet the Safer Choice Standard get to carry the Safer Choice label. If a cleaning product has the label, schools know it’s made with ingredients that are safer for students, teachers, custodial staff, school visitors – even the mascot. Safer Choice-labeled products also must meet performance criteria, which means they work. And, important to everyone, whether a school purchaser or a consumer, a survey by Consumer Reports found that they can be just as affordable as alternatives.
I’m always asking my daughters what cleaning products and practices their schools use. I know they want their students to be present and actively learning every day. Here are some of the reasons why I ask them to find out if their schools look for products with the Safer Choice label:
- Indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air. Indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — higher than outdoor levels;
- Staff and students spend a lot of time in school and children are often more susceptible to pollutants than adults; and
- Fumes from cleaning products can linger long after they have been applied, which can exacerbate asthma and expose students and staff to potentially harmful substances.
Looking for ways you can help your school find products with the Safer Choice label?
- Use our interactive map. You’ll see from the map that products with the Safer Choice label aren’t just for school and business use, but home use as well.
- Talk to your custodial staff about the cleaning products they use. I recently participated in a green cleaning leadership institute. The director of school facilities and head of the award-winning green cleaning program at Howard County Public Schools in my home state of Maryland talked about the importance of the custodial staff, calling them the school’s ambassadors of health and key to their school’s success and health.
- Share our postcard within your school communities to help get the word out about Safer Choice.
My goal is to get schools across the country to look for the Safer Choice label, not just my daughters’ schools in New Orleans and Brooklyn. There are over 2,000 products that qualify to carry the label and some, like hand soap, are great for home and school. The next time you’re at the store, look for products with the Safer Choice label. It’s a safer choice.