Asthma Friendly Classrooms - Non-Toxic Products Protect Health

With childhood asthma on the rise, this article examines a few simple ways to reduce the cocktail of airborne chemicals in our North American classrooms. Asthma has reached epidemic proportions in the United States affecting a reported 1 in 13 school-aged children. These children lead the way in school absenteeism due to a chronic illness, with over 14 million missed school days per year in the US. The near future does not look more promising, with the percentage of children with asthma rising more rapidly in preschool-aged children than in any other age group.  While many factors are to blame for poor indoor air quality and airborne toxins in the classroom, a few simple changes can make a huge difference to the health of a classroom…and our children. A recent study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the U.S. has revealed that cleaning supplies used in schools could be polluting classroom air with more than 450 distinct toxic contaminants, including chemical agents linked to asthma and cancer. The good news is that Green Seal  and EcoLogo have certified green cleaning products, which can emit 80 percent fewer contaminants into the air compared to non-certified cleaning products. Certified green cleaning supplies like Marauder, Glance NA, and Alpha HP resulted in cumulative emissions that were only one-sixth of the total emissions from conventional cleaning products. Another source of toxicity in the classrooms is the use of traditional whiteboard markers, many of which contain xylene, a chemical that occurs naturally in petroleum and tar. Xylene is classified as a neurotoxin and can be responsible for some neurological effects such as headaches, fatigue, memory loss and lightheadedness. It can also result in laboured breathing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency[1]. Even markers designated 'non-toxic' are triggering symptoms in people with chemical sensitivities. There are several xylene-free choices on the market, but AusPen eco-friendly dry-erase markers stand out for their non-toxic properties and for their low environmental impact. The pens are refillable, using ink made of vegetable dyes, and they are recyclable, cutting down on the approximate 500 million non-biodegradable markers thrown out annually by North America teachers.   The long-term low-level exposure to the cocktail of chemicals found in our classrooms is troubling, to say the least, especially since there are so many unknowns about its effect on children with asthma. Testing for human health effects is normally done on single chemicals, leaving us simply to speculate about their combined impact. Armed with certified green cleaning products and non-toxic classroom supplies is one way, happily, to help everyone breathe a little easier.
[1] According to the EPA’s 2000 Air Toxic Website fact sheet on xylene.

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