Breathing Easier


Safer, healthier, cheaper.  New RAMP report shows how green cleaning products in schools reduce asthma risk for students and staff.
 Sadly, when we try to clean up educational environments, we may be causing more harm than good. Many cleaning products used in schools—the very products used to try to create an ideal learning space—are made up of a wide variety of hazard­ous chemicals that contribute to asthma, cancer, repro­ductive harm, and damage to the body. The floors may sparkle, countertops may shine, and the air may smell fresh, but there may be a cost to the lungs and overall health of our children, teachers, and custodial staff.
 There are better ways to provide an ideal classroom. Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP) created this report on green cleaning in schools to highlight one important and effective way to improve air quality in schools, creating healthy environments in which students can learn and teachers can teach.

Click here to read Breathing Easier, the latest report from RAMP.


(Oakland, CA) A new report to be released on World Asthma Day, May 5th, shows how three school districts in California transitioning to certified green cleaning products are improving the health of students, teachers and staff while producing significant savings for schools.  These findings are especially important for California, where one in six children suffers from asthma and asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness.   The report, entitled Breathing Easier: School Districts Make the Switch to Certified Green Cleaning Products, was prepared by the Regional Asthma Management and Prevention project (RAMP), which among other things works to reduce environmental triggers for asthma in schools, homes and outdoor air.  RAMP created the report to highlight one effective way to improve air quality in schools, where according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indoor air can be 2-5 times and sometimes up to 100 times more polluted than outside air. 

“Far too often our children and those who teach them spend their day in anything but an ideal environment,” noted Anne Kelsey Lamb, Director of RAMP.  “Unfortunately, when we try to clean up that environment we may be making it worse.  Many cleaning products traditionally used in schools — the very products used to try to create an ideal learning space — are made up of a wide variety of hazardous chemicals that contribute to asthma, cancer, reproductive harm, and damages to the body.” 

Breathing Easier profiles the efforts of three large school districts in Northern California and the San Joaquin Valley — Fresno, Fairfield-Suisun, and Elk Grove just south of Sacramento — that have successfully transitioned or are in the process of transitioning to using certified green cleaning products.  Each story is unique but all have the same outcome: adoption of certified green cleaning products which school maintenance officials, superintendents, teachers, parents and students attribute to a healthier indoor environment and improved conditions for teaching and learning.

“Job injuries mostly evaporated that first year [we used green cleaning products],” noted Francis Kennedy, Custodial Manager of the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District, in the report.  “We’re not having the chemical accidents we used to have, or damage to our carpets from bleaches.  The health and safety of our kids is very important to us.”

The case studies in Breathing Easier showcase just a few of the hundreds of products that have been certified for institutional use by an independent third party process to ensure that the products meet certain criteria for reduced health and environmental impact.  Many are hydrogen peroxide based multi-purpose cleaners that can be used to clean everything from toilets to chalk boards.  Breathing Easier provides a list of green cleaning resources for school districts who are interested in making the transition to cleaning products that are less harmful and less costly. 

Officials in all three school districts claim they’ve saved money after switching to green cleaning products.  All certified institutional green cleaning products are concentrates and schools are saving money through automatic dilution equipment that cuts waste.  Elk Grove officials say that absenteeism rates have dropped since introduction of green cleaning products, resulting in increased state funds for increased average daily attendance.  A decrease in industrial accidents and custodial absences due to adverse reactions to chemicals is also calculated as a positive by all three districts.

“It’s good for the kids and good for the staff,” says Dr. Steven Ladd, Superintendant of the Elk Grove Unified School District.  “But taking away harsh chemicals is also a benefit to the planet and the environment.”

According to RAMP, switching to certified green cleaning products is one of several steps schools can take to improve the school environment. For instance, schools can implement indoor air quality management plans, which detail no-or low-cost maintenance and prevention practices that promote healthy school facilities.

California state policy makers also have a role to play, as the successes in Fresno, Elk Grove and Fairfield-Suisun with green cleaning products could pave the way for passage of Assembly Bill 821, currently moving through the California legislature. AB 821, called the “Clean and Healthy School Act” by its author, Santa Monica assemblywoman Julia Brownley, would require all K-12 schools in California with more than 50 students to use non-toxic cleaning products starting in the 2011-2012 school year. To combat concerns over the cost, districts would only be required to make the switch if it’s revenue neutral.

“We believe in most cases it’s going to be a cost-savings to schools because they buy large containers and dilute it and the price per use is less,” Assemblywoman Brownley told a press conference held at an Elk Grove elementary school last month.  “We actually believe there will be an economic benefit to making this transition.” 

Regional Asthma Management and Prevention, along with the Green Schools Initiative, Environmental Working Group, Coalition for Clean Air, Teachers for Healthy Kids and Green Purchasing Institute are supporting the Clean and Healthy Schools Act.  As the report Breathing Easier shows, the transition to green cleaning products in schools is not only possible, it is already being carried out successfully by school districts of varying sizes and disparate student bodies across the state.