Friday January 20, 2012

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Local school officials are in support of a bill passed by both chambers of the state Legislature last week, requiring the use of environmentally friendly cleaning products in schools.

The bill, S.92, is pending authorization by Gov. Peter Shumlin. If signed into law, all public and independent schools will be required to only purchase cleaning products and air fresheners deemed environmentally preferable as of July 1.

"In my opinion this bill is an effort at improving the overall safety, air quality, and environment within our schools," said James Marsden, maintenance director for Mount Anthony Union middle and high school.

The bill is intended to keep cleaning supplies that contain toxic chemicals linked to asthma, cancer and other health issues out of schools. A similar switch to "green" cleaning products was made in all state buildings in 2004 under the Clean State Program.

Advocates of the bill, including the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), testified that green cleaning products are as effective and affordable as conventional supplies.

Marsden speculated there may be a small cost increase associated with the change, but he said the district will only need to make minor changes when the law takes effect because it already uses many environmentally preferable products.


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Both the middle and high school made a transition to "much safer cleaning products" over the past five years, and the district is actively engaged in the "Tools for Schools" program that addresses many of the safety and environmental concerns addressed in S.92.

"The days of bleach in toilets is long gone, thank goodness," Marsden said.

Additional precautions the district takes include carefully storing and labeling products and doing all major cleaning after school during custodian shifts from 2:30 to 11 p.m. Custodians also spend limited time with chemicals that could have potential risks over extended periods of time.

Officials in Battenkill Valley Supervisory Union, which includes Arlington’s schools, also applauded the bill.

"If its going to make kids healthy and staff healthy, then its a good bill," Superintendent Thomas Gallagher said.

Contrary to some reaction about potential increased costs associated with the mandate, Gallagher views the bill as a potential cost saver.

"Ultimately, it’s a cost savings because you’ll have less illness -- for kids and staff -- and that’s a savings if we have fewer staff absent and fewer students absent," he said. "But the overriding factor is if it’s going to improve the safety, then it’s a good bill and I applaud the Legislature."

Carol Westinghouse, president of the nonprofit group Informed Green Solutions, which helps schools transition to safer cleaning products, said in a statement that some schools in Vermont that have already switched to more environmentally friendly cleaning products have reported fewer cases of asthma, nausea, and headaches.

The bill S.92 was brought to the brink of passage during last year’s legislative session, but was ultimately pushed off a year in order to make final revisions.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com