Product: Green Schoolyards, Pest Control, and School Gardens
- Criteria: How Do I Know It's Green?
- Costs: Can I Afford It?
- Green Products: How Do I Find Them?
- Beyond Buying: Other Environmentally Friendly Options
Green Products: How Do I Find Them?
The Green Schoolyards Directory provides resources for less-toxic pest control approaches and products, play equipment and creative play environments, and school gardens.
To find these green products go here:
Criteria: How Do I Know It's Green?
In 1999, the National School Boards Association along with the National League of Cities and Youth Crime Watch of America stated that “dangers in the environment” such as “potentially dangerous pesticides” are one of the “10 critical threats” that jeopardize “the health, safety, and future of America’s children.” Children and school personnel can be exposed to hazardous pesticides, even if application occurs when children are not on the premises. Children face higher risks than adults from pesticide exposure due to their small size, developing organs, a greater relative intake of air and food, and behaviors such as playing on or near the ground and a tendency to place their hands close to their face. Pesticide exposure can negatively affect children’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels.
Alternatives to conventional chemical pest (animal and plant) control are available, and a number of schools across the country have adopted Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs to manage pests with minimal use of toxic chemicals. IPM is a holistic strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pest problems through a combination of techniques including pest population monitoring, site or pest inspections, evaluating the need for pest control (as opposed to conventional approaches which often use chemicals whether or not pests are actually a problem), education, guidelines for safety precautions if pesticides do need to be used, and structural, mechanical, cultural, and biological controls. See the Green Products: Green Schoolyards Directory (upper right) for more resources on IPM and less-toxic pesticide choices. Inquire whether your school has an IPM program.
Pressure-treated play structures
For many years, wooden play-structures were treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA), a chemical that helps to prevent wood from rotting due to fungi, molds, insects, sun and water. CCA contains arsenic, which is known to cause cancer. Over time, the arsenic in CCA can be released into the ground nearby. It can also become part of surface residue on the wood. In a 2004 study, 64 of the 68 children who played on a pressure-treated play structure had arsenic on their hands.
Due to health concerns, the use of CCA in wood intended for use around homes and playgrounds is no longer permitted in Canada or the U.S. As of January 1, 2004, wood products intended for use in play structures, decks, fences, landscape timber or other household uses cannot be treated with CCA. Wood for industrial use can still be treated with CCA. Many schools and cities have recognized the dangers of arsenic play structures and they are working to replace these structures before children can ingest any of these toxic ingredients. See Beyond Buying section below for tips on reducing arsenic exposure if you cannot replace these structures right away.
Artificial or synthetic turf fields
Synthetic or artificial turf fields are becoming a popular replacement for water and labor intensive grass fields at schools. However, there are now serious concerns about exposure to dangerous levels of lead and other chemicals. In June 2008, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a warning about potential lead exposures from turf, stating that "As the turf ages and weathers, lead is released in dust that could then be ingested or inhaled, and the risk for harmful exposure increases." Two artificial field turfs in New Jersey were closed after two state officials found up to 10 times the amount of lead that is allowed on contaminated sites that are being turned into homes. The Center for Environmental Health in California initiated legal action against retailers and synthetic turf companies under California's Proposition 65 law, after independent testing of turf showed dangerous levels of lead. The nonprofit is calling for turf makers to reformulate their products to eliminate the lead risk to children. CEH is recommending that parents and schools be sure that children wash their hands thoroughly after playing on artificial turf fields. Parents, schools or others with artificial turf fields can send samples of turf for free lead testing to the CEH’s Oakland office. See the Green Schoolyards Directory for resources.
General criteria for green schoolyards
When planning or assessing your schoolyard plans, consider the following:
- Non-toxic play structures, and play equipment with recycled content and/or sustainably produced
- Less asphalt and more green spaces, environments for creative and open-ended play
- Reduced or no pesticide use, Integrated Pest Management programs, and disclosure of pesticide use, if any
- School gardens, use of native plants, and use of low-asthma trigger plants
- Storm water management and permeable paving and surfaces
- Water conservation, drip irrigation and/or water recycling
Costs: Can I Afford It?
Green schoolyards may appear more expensive, but actually there are cost-savings in many areas and large benefits for student health, learning, and social well-being. Integrated Pest Management is shown to be cost-effective. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “preliminary indications from IPM programs in school systems suggest that long term costs of IPM may be less than a conventional pest control program.” Schools in California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and New York have documented thousands of dollars in long-term savings, as well as other indirect benefits from savings reduced food infestations, reduction in emergency repairs, and improved maintenance and sanitation.
In California, grants are available from the California Department of Education and other sources to support school gardens, including professional development for teachers, equipment, and garden construction. Start small with a simple container garden! See “Greenbacks for Green Schools” for resources about funding, as well as the Green Products: Green Schoolyards Directory (above).
Beyond Buying: Other Environmentally Friendly Options
The big goal is to bring in nature to the schoolyard! Nature is free and there are many ways you can cultivate nature at your school without spending a lot of money.
- Start a container garden with salvaged pots, buckets, or containers. Get seeds donated from a local nursery.
- Paint a human sundial on the asphalt with salvaged paint to help kids notice the pattern of the sun in the sky through the seasons. http://www.sunclocks.com/
- Dig up asphalt in one small corner and plant a tree. Students enjoy sitting under the tree at lunch!
- Make your own rain gauge out of used coffee cans and monitor rainfall at school. Capture rain in a barrel and use to water your container garden. Install a “rain chain” and watch and listen to the beauty of rain falling into a barrel as an alternative to a downspout.
- Make wind chimes out of salvaged materials and listen to the invisible wind. Click here for how-to.
- Use natural materials for outdoor play, rather than plastic – cut tree stumps into stepping stones and blocks, for example.
- Use your own imagination and the creativity of your students – the sky’s the limit!
If you already have a play structure you can reduce arsenic exposure by:
1. Paints and sealers. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends conventional water sealer because more impervious coatings, such as paints and urethanes, can peel when they get old. Sanding peeling paint or urethanes off an arsenic-treated surface can be risky.
2. Physical barriers, usually in the form of plastic- and vinyl-based covers. These materials are made to fit over standard-size decking and structural members, like conventional vinyl siding, and are available in various colors and textures.
3. Replacement of treated wood can be done with a variety of substitute products on the market. Some companies offer wood treated with different federally approved chemicals. Others firms sell wood substitutes made from recycled plastic and rubber, even rice straw.
4. Home test kits to check arsenic levels in pressure-treated decks, play sets and other structures are available, at cost, from the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research organization, through its Website (www.ewg.org).
Why Buy Green? - Green Schoolyards, Pest Control, and School Gardens
The importance of outdoor play and exposure to nature has been demonstrated time and again in its contribution to healthy development of gross motor skills, creativity and social interaction. Yet sadly, statistics show that children ages 3 to 12 spend just 1.5 percent of their free time (about 30 minutes each week) in unstructured outdoor play.
A growing body of research shows that exposing kids to nature yields all manner of health benefits, both physical and mental. Recent studies have found that contact with nature improved attention spans and self-control in kids, including those diagnosed with ADHD. There is also evidence that spending time outside may boost academic performance. "In schools that have outdoor classrooms or focus on outdoor education, testing improves across the board," says Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder." And, he says, kids who spend time in nature also tend to play more creatively and handle stress more effectively.
And yet our schools’ playgrounds are oceans of asphalt with nary a plant in sight. Often, if there are playing fields or landscaping, pesticides are sprayed causing potentially hazardous exposures for children. Old wooden playground equipment can expose kids to arsenic from pressure-treated wood. And artificial turf is now suspected of having dangerous levels of lead and off-gassing of other hazardous chemicals.
A playground should not adversely affect the health of children but rather positively influence that child's health and well-being. The California Healthy Schools Act of 2000 encourages schools to implement Integrated Pest Management approaches rather than pesticides. Alternative playground equipment exists using sustainably harvested wood or recycled plastic. Many schools have torn up tarmac and planted green gardens to nurture the child/nature relationship. School gardens provide a forum for hands-on learning and sensory development, and in some schools, gardens are being integrated into the educational curriculum to teach children not only about plants, nature, and the outdoors, but other subjects such as history, economics, poetry, and math. Schools are realizing the importance of getting kids out into nature or nurturing a slice of nature on campus. Whatever your outdoor schoolyard looks like, get those kids outside and go green!
Green Buying Tools
"Environmentally Preferable Purchasing" or "Green Purchasing" means integrating environmental and health factors into all procurement policies and decisions. Green purchasing can also save money, protect students and staff, and reduce liability—something schools everywhere should care about.
The following tools will help you get started: