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Healthy Boston Schools Janitorial Project

Project Details

Year: 2005
Location: Boston
Project Manager: Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) - Project Leader, Tolle Graham
Partners: Boston Urban Asthma Coalition (BUAC), Boston Public Schools Custodial Association, Boston Public Schools, Boston Public Health Commission


After a two-year effort the Boston Public Schools system agreed to expand its use of green cleaners to all Boston schools! A policy was drafted for signature and the effort complemented the Mayor's green building initiative. As a result of their work, these partners were asked to an educational forum at the statehouse on healthy cleaners. During the first year of the project BUAC and MassCOSH reviewed 17 cleaning products in use, provided training and support to custodians and other school community members on the less toxic cleaning chemicals, and introduced custodians to school environmental committees. The year culminated with four schools pilot testing greener cleaners. This year the pilot tests were evaluated leading to the decision to adopt green cleaners for all schools and develop a model policy that could be used by all school systems. In addition, a stakeholder meeting was held to discuss ways to further promote green cleaners for schools across the state. A report will outline the steps of the project and barriers to adoption and a custodial training program will be further developed for use by other custodial unions.

Traditional cleaning products contain chemicals that can cause short term ailments such skin, eye, lung irritation, and longer-term health problems such as occupational asthma, organ damage, or potentially cancer. Of particular concern are workers in the cleaning profession who are exposed almost daily thru breathing fumes and skin contact with these products. According to Massachusetts Department of Public Health's SENSOR Work-Related Asthma surveillance project, indoor air pollutants (21%) and cleaning products (17%) accounted for the most frequently reported cases of occupational asthma between 1993 and 2002. Cleaning product ingredients reported in on-the-job asthma cases included irritants such as acids, ammonia or bleach; and disinfectants such as formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, and quaternary ammonia compounds. Other products used by janitorial staff such as floor strippers also impact indoor air quality and are hazardous to workers.

Project Deliverables

Completion of four pilot tests, green cleaners policy for Boston Public Schools, training program for custodians, final report on process and barriers.

This page updated Tuesday October 25 2011