Lately we’ve been getting emails that contain some perceptive and valuable suggestions about ways to make Lawrence more sustainable. From time to time, we’ll post these here, along with our responses. Readers, feel free to comment!
First in the series is an exchange between Prof. Joanne Metcalf (Music: Theory and Composition) and Prof. Jeff Clark (Geology/Environmental Studies/Green Roots).
I will not be able to attend the workshop, but I would like to put forward the idea of giving due consideration to indoor air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency (http://www.epa.gov/iaq/index.html) identifies indoor air pollution as an important health concern that we can all do something about. Exposure to common indoor air pollutants can cause immediate effects, such as headache, eye irritation, and asthma, and long term effects that may take years to become apparent, such as respiratory diseases and cancer.
The EPA identifies sources of indoor air pollution in offices as “asbestos from insulating and fire-retardant building supplies; formaldehyde from pressed wood products; other organics from building materials, carpet, and other office furnishings, cleaning materials and activities, restroom air fresheners, paints, adhesives, copying machines, and photography and print shops; biological contaminants from dirty ventilation systems or water-damaged walls, ceilings, and carpets; and pesticides from pest management practices.” (http://www.epa.gov/iaq/is-build2.html)
While it would be a worthy goal to address all of these matters in due course, I would like to suggest that a relatively easy starting point for Lawrence would be to review Material Safety Data Sheets for potentially toxic substances used in cleaning and maintenance (which will probably include almost all of them) and replace them with safer, nontoxic alternatives. Such a move would better protect the short and long term health of students, faculty and staff, and–as many cleaning and maintenance substances are petrochemical-based and/or emit toxic VOCs (volatile organic compounds)–greatly reduce the impact on the environment as well.
Thank you for your suggestion. You are not the first to raise the issue of cleaners on campus. We will add that to the list of things to investigate. In the meantime take some comfort in knowing that the majority of cleaning supplies used on campus are non-toxic, biodegradable, and meet VOC requirements. In some cases a less benign substance is used because the greener alternatives are less effective (so more has to be used) or they are much more expensive. As we learn more about the operations on campus we are reminded that we need to do a better job publicizing how “green” we already are in addition to looking for ways to improve. If there are specific cleaning products that concern you please let us know and we will look into alternatives.
Thank you again for your note and your interest.
Faculty Associate to the President for Green Roots