Impact on Asthma

Chemical ingredients in many of the cleaning products, furnishings, and materials used in buildings can cause asthma symptoms and other health problems. There are safer alternatives to many of these products and furnishings that can reduce or eliminate asthma triggers for most people. Several school districts and municipalities, as well as the state government, provide useful resources to help you identify and purchase these products. Executive Order 515 mandates that state agencies use environmental preferable products. Massachusetts’ Environmental purchasing policy created a buying program that all schools and municipalities can use. The Massachusetts Environmentally Preferable Products (EPP) Purchasing program includes only products that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose, and offers price discounts through group purchasing. Selecting the safest products, using the right dilutions, being aware of any potentially dangerous chemical interactions, and providing training for users will help reduce adverse effects on asthma (1). 

(1) Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Infosheet: Protecting Workers Who Use Cleaning Chemicals.

Policy Guidance

Policy Statement on Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting, Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care: Guidance on cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting for family, small group, large group, and school-age licensing, which now allows these programs to use other EPA Registered sanitizing products that are more asthma-friendly. This EEC Policy provides information on cleaning and disinfecting, and the safe use of bleach, that can be adapted for the school environment.

Example Policies 

Consider including the following in your green cleaning policy: a description of where the policy is in effect, reasons for implementation, an implementation plan, guidelines for procurement of cleaning supplies, and guidelines for use of disinfectants. See below for some sample green cleaning policies:

Executive Order on green city building maintenance and operations, City of Boston

Green cleaning policies, Boston Public Schools (include PDF BPS Healthy School Environment Policy)

Best Practices 

Your school can implement one or all of these best practices to achieve green-cleaning and the use of environmentally preferred products:

  • Organize a viewing and discussion of the Wastebusters green-cleaning video to promote the use of safer, green cleaners in school.
  • Include asthma-friendly green-cleaning information at a parent or family night at your school. Do a demonstration and distribute recipes for making homemade green-cleaning products for families to use at home.
  • Use the Massachusetts Environmentally Preferable Products Procurement Program for information, and to purchase equipment and supplies.
  • Apply for grant funding for additional resources to pilot and implement asthma-friendly and green practices.

Best Practice Highlight

Boston Healthy School Champions are trained through the citywide Healthy Schools Task Force. They identify healthy actions to implement in schools. An example is organizing a green-cleaning awareness event to swap conventional cleaners with an approved green cleaner. See the case study Green cleaning: Big rewards with little investment required [link_Resource #11].

Resources & Tools

Environmentally Preferable Products Procurement Program, Massachusetts Executive Office for Administration and Finance: Information about green products, programs, equipment, and supplies.

FAC85 Green Cleaning Products Fact Sheet, Massachusetts Operational Services Division FAC85: Benefits and information on purchasing environmentally preferable products through the state contract.

Green Cleaning for Healthy Schools Toolkit, National Coalition for Healthier Schools: Free educational materials including posters, PowerPoint presentations, and other resources.

5 Steps to Green Cleaning in Schools, Green Clean Schools: Five steps to help simplify the process of green cleaning in schools, whether you’re just starting or upgrading an existing green cleaning program.

Green Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting for Early Care and Education, University of California San Francisco: Background on infection and cleaning, health hazards, and environmental effects of cleaners, safe and effective cleaning in early care and education, and more.

Caring for Kids with Asthma: A Guide for Massachusetts Child Care Programs, Massachusetts Department of Public Health: Comprehensive guide on childhood asthma management, including information about requirements for cleaning, sanitizing, disinfecting procedures.

Toxics Use Reduction Institute, University of Massachusetts Lowell: Examples of how Massachusetts school systems are creatively incorporating toxics use-reduction into their policies and daily operations.

Cleaning for health: Creating asthma-friendly schools presentation: PowerPoint slides with basic green-cleaning information, including the difference between cleaning equipment and chemical dilution systems, and policy tips; can be presented to teachers, administrators, parents, and other school staff [link_Resource #12]

Replacing bleach wipes fact sheet (English and Spanish): One-page fact sheet explaining why bleach wipes should not be used in schools, what alternatives there are, and how everyone can help [link_Reource #13]