ERIC Identifier: ED324192
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Howe, Robert W. - Disinger, John F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Science Mathematics and Environmental
Education Columbus OH.
Teaching Desirable Environmental Ethics and Action
through School Activities. ERIC/SMEAC Environmental Education Digest No.
One of the major goals of environmental education programs is developing
students with positive environmental ethics and motivated to take desirable
Research studies suggest that attitudes and behaviors of individuals
are frequently modeled after the attitudes and behavior of others. Since
most youth spend six to seven hours a day in school buildings, a coordinated
school environmental program that focuses on preventing and solving environmental
problems at the school site can provide an excellent model of attitudes
and behaviors for young people to emulate. Elements that should be included
in the program include (1) a set of policies, (2) procedures for identification
of problems, (3) action plans to prevent and alleviate problems, (4) plans
for monitoring actions, and (5) evaluation policies, identification activities,
action activities, and monitoring activities.
Developing and operating a school environmental plan can be an important
part of a school environmental education curriculum. This digest identifies
several environmental concerns that should be included in a school environmental
program. Ways to begin a school environmental program are suggested.
DOES YOUR SCHOOL HAVE ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES AND A PROGRAM REGARDING
An important aspect of any school environmental program is an environmental
purchasing policy. A purchasing policy provides guidelines for materials
to be used in the school and on the school grounds. An effective policy
statement provides guidelines to reduce or eliminate the purchase of materials
that are not safe or environmentally sound and also provides guidelines
regarding amounts of materials to be purchased to reduce waste. The cafeteria,
school and grounds maintenance, science programs, art programs, general
school supplies, and remodeling projects are areas that should be the focus
of initial policies.
Study and discussion regarding what materials should and should not
be used in a school provide excellent environmental education experiences.
These activities will provide both a good school environment and practice
for students to model at home and in their consumer roles.
DOES YOUR SCHOOL HAVE ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES AND A PROGRAM FOR WISE
USE OF MATERIALS IN AND AROUND THE SCHOOL?
Students and staff should be involved in discussing and establishing
guidelines for purchasing alternative materials and storage, use, and disposal
of materials. Students should also be involved in monitoring activities
to determine how effective the policies are and whether changes in policies
Some materials containing chemicals are hazardous and should not be
used in schools or should be stored and used under carefully specified
conditions. Science, art, and technology programs are curricular areas
usually affected most by guidelines; materials used in these classes may
be corrosive, flammable, or carcinogenic and can present hazards to the
students and the environment.
Buildings and grounds maintenance materials may also present problems.
Materials used for cleaning buildings, exterminating insects in buildings,
and as pesticides on playgrounds and playing fields are among problems
frequently identified in school environmental studies.
DOES YOUR SCHOOL HAVE ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES AND A PROGRAM FOR IDENTIFYING,
MONITORING AND CORRECTING ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS?
A school environmental program should include identifying and monitoring
real problems in the school. Since many of these problems can also be problems
in homes and the workplace, student involvement in the school program can
develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are easily transferred to
A few of the more common problems found in schools are emphasized as
Schools in many states have been tested for radon, and elevated concentrations
have been reported in schools in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New
Jersey, Florida, Washington, New York, Maine, Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Tennessee,
and Illinois (USEPA, 1989).
All schools should be sampled for the amount of radon that is present.
Protocols have been established for radon screening and monitoring (USEPA,
1989). Students can be involved in screening activities to identify sites
that might warrant confirmatory or diagnostic measurements. If elevated
radiation levels are found, experienced radon professionals should be consulted
for further analysis and procedures to reduce radon levels.
Drinking water in school can present several types of problems.
The extent of lead contamination in some drinking water is considerable.
Since children are particularly susceptible to the toxic effects of lead,
schools should monitor drinking water periodically to identify possible
problems. Lead may be from the original water, lead solder used in plumbing,
corrosion of plumbing materials and some equipment such as water coolers
(USEPA has developed a list of water coolers that were found to contain
lead). Student activities can be used to detect if any lead is in the water.
Professional assistance should be consulted if any levels are identified
because many of the simpler tests may vary in accuracy.
Small schools in rural sites often obtain drinking water from wells.
Well water may become contaminated and cause health problems. Schools using
well water need to be certain they are complying with state and federal
drinking water regulations.
From the 1940's to the 1970's materials containing asbestos were used
in many schools. The USEPA has issued a number of regulations regarding
health effects of asbestos, sources of asbestos in schools and asbestos
removal. While professionals should assess potential asbestos problems
in schools, a school environmental program involving students can investigate
the asbestos problem including (1) sources of asbestos in floor tile, ceiling
tile, roofing materials, pipe insulation, and fireproofing; (2) effects
of asbestos on health; (3) asbestos removal problems; and (4) controversy
regarding the impact of the different types of asbestos on humans.
Recommendations for school guidelines and policies can be developed
as a result of student investigations and deliberations.
Newspapers and magazines frequently have articles on "sick buildings,"
buildings that have unhealthy environments due to substances in the air.
Schools in some cases may become "sick buildings" due to problems associated
with heating and cooling systems and materials used in constructing and
furnishing buildings. A school environmental program should identify and
monitor the most common problems associated with construction, equipment
and furnishings used in the building.
PAINTS AND CHEMICALS USED IN CLASSES
Paints frequently contain metals that may be harmful to children. While
few buildings will contain paint with lead, buildings may have paint containing
mercury, chromium or cadmium. Paints should be checked to determine if
there are potential problems.
Classes may use materials containing hazardous chemicals. Some chemicals
hazardous to health have been used in art (chromates, lead, solvents),
biology (formaldehyde), and chemistry (benzene, phenol, metals, acetone).
Lists are available that identify potentially harmful chemicals in more
detail (Wahl, 1989).
Some materials contain chemicals that can be dangerous because they
are flammable, may be explosive, or may be corrosive. Materials used in
classes and schools should be inventoried to determine what is currently
stored and used. Policies should be established for storage and use; practices
should be monitored.
DOES YOUR SCHOOL HAVE POLICIES FOR THE DISPOSAL OF WASTES?
A school environmental program should have waste disposal policies that
consider conservation, waste reduction and pollution control.
A school can provide an excellent model for families by developing procedures
to reduce wastes and to recycle or compost as much material as possible.
Common materials used in schools that can be recycled include paper products,
glass, plastic materials and aluminum and mixed metallic cans. Materials
that can be composted include yard wastes and food wastes from cafeterias.
Policies should also be established for disposal of materials that can
not be composted or recycled. Chemicals, paints, solvents, oil, batteries,
and other items containing hazardous materials should be removed by approved
methods. If a community does not have a program for handling hazardous
wastes, a good school activity is to work with community officials to establish
If your school is searching for a project to implement following Earth
Day 1990, developing a school environmental program is an excellent way
to make a one-day event an all year and continuing event.
Suggestions are given in this digest for elements to include in the
program and ways to involve students. References listed provide more direction
SELECTED INFORMATION SOURCES
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Public Information Center
401 "M" Street, SW
Washington, DC 20460
National Technical Information Service
U.S. Department of Commerce
5285 Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22161
U.S. Government Printing Office
Superintendent of Documents
Washington, DC 20402-9325
ABC's of Asbestos in Schools. United States Environmental Protection
Agency, Washington, DC, 1989.
Asbestos in Schools: A Guide to New Federal Requirements for Local Education
Agencies Guidance for Planning and Inspections. United States Environmental
Protection Agency, Washington, DC, February 1988. ED 303 345.
Citizen's Guide to Pesticides: Booklet for Households. United States
Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, September, 1987. ED 299
Citizen's Guide to Radon: What It Is and What To DO about It. United
States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, 1986.
The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality. United States Environmental
Protection Agency, Washington, DC, 1988.
Lead in Schools' Drinking Water. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington,
Less Is Better. American Chemical Society. Department of Government
Relations and Science Policy. Washington, DC, 1985. ED 299 139.
100 Commonly Asked Questions about the New AHERA Asbestos-in-Schools
Rule. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, May,
1988. ED 301 405.
Radon Measurements in Schools: An Interim Report. United States Environmental
Protection Agency, Washington, DC, March, 1989.
Radon Reduction Techniques in Schools: Interim Technical Guidance. United
States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, Oct. 1989.
Report to Congress: Management of Hazardous Wastes from Educational
Institutions. National Technical Information Service, U.S. Department of
Commerce, Springfield, VA, 1989.
Wahl, George H., Jr., ed. Reduction of Hazardous Waste from High School
Chemistry Laboratories. North Carolina State University, 1989.
Young, J.A., ed., Improving Safety in the Chemical Laboratory--A Practical
Approach. John Wiley and Sons, New York, NY, 1987.