WELCOME to The Catalyst!

back home up next

Evidence for Need

Surveys of Ohio schools in 1990-1991 indicated a need for removal of hazardous materials, especially those chemicals found in science stockrooms. The estimated cost of removal of $ 5 to $10 million for all Ohio schools was based on a waste removal program in the Lima area. Amended House Bill 215 sponsored by Senator H. Cooper Snyder and Representative Dan Troy appropriated $2,943,401 in July of 1997 to get the program started. The program was designed by Stan Santilli and the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) and the state funded Ohio Schools Hazardous Waste Removal Program (HWRP) began in February of 1998.

Perusal of the inventories and the chemicals selected (and those not selected) for disposal during the initial stages showed teachers needed information about the hazards of chemicals to make good decisions. It was found that only 1.6 % of the 945 teachers who attended the Safety Seminars had prior instruction in the hazards of chemicals as undergraduates.

Attending a Safety Seminar was approved by the HWRP Advisory Group as a requirement for participation in the program. The first Safety Seminars were in March of 1998 and chemical removal began the next month. Safety Seminars were scheduled for each Regional Professional Development Center (RPDC) region throughout the 1998-1999 school year. There was an additional Safety Seminar in Columbus in May for any school that had missed the seminar in their region due to "a failure in communication."

By September 1, 1999 about 85% of Ohio schools had volunteered to participate in the HWRP and had attended the required Safety Seminar. Projections indicated there would be enough money in the appropriation to serve all of the schools that agreed to participate. At this time the only difficulty in the HWRP was in communication with school districts. Despite the many announcements of the program a few school officials called each week to say they had just heard about this rare example of a voluntary but funded program.

To increase the awareness of the program meetings the county sanitarians were informed about the HWRP and given a list of schools that had participated. Sanitarians inspect every school in Ohio twice annually and were asked to make sure the administration was aware of possible hazards and of the HWRP. To further invite participation of all Ohio schools public and private K-12, four more regional HWRP Safety Seminars were given in September and October of 1999. The schools responding to the fall 1999 HWRP seminars raised the percentage of participating districts to 94%. The large influx of inventories from participating schools and the high percentage of schools with high hazard materials exhausted the funds for removal. Employing the "Bomb Squad" to stabilize and remove explosive chemicals costs an additional $2,000 per school, money well spent. I had thought only a few schools would have explosive materials. Ohio had 153 schools with high hazard materials (almost one fourth of the school districts) that required special handling.

The information we have from the 94% of participating school districts indicates that all of Ohio�s 611 school districts have hazardous chemicals that need to be removed. A statewide program is best equipped to accomplish removal while complying with governmental regulations. Schools lack the expertise needed to select a contractor, write a contract for removal, and make judgements of the hazards of chemicals. Small isolated schools "fall through the cracks" and statewide, safety is ignored.

Significant accomplishments of the HWRP:

  1. Voluntary participation of 94% of Ohio school districts in the program.
  2. Removal of unwanted chemicals from 866 school buildings. (This includes middle school buildings and some elementary buildings as well as joint vocational schools.)
  3. Removal of explosive chemicals such as trinitrophenol, dimethyl ether, sodium azide, or tetrahydrofuran from 153 schools. The stabilization and removal of these chemicals required a High Hazard Team (Bomb Squad) and prevented a potential disaster. One explosion that maimed of killed a teacher or student and the subsequent lawsuit would make the total $3 million cost look small.
  4. The cost per school has averaged less than $3,500 which is about half of the estimated cost. The difference is largely due to savings achieved by employing a single contractor, scheduling the waste removal geographically by RPDC regions, and using a single accounting method. The cost ranged from the minimum of $500 to more than $45,000 for the most expensive school. (The saving to schools is even greater. When a High Hazard team is required and scheduled to visit several schools the cost per school is much less. Several schools had bids from CleanHarbors for removal and the cost to the HWRP for the removal of chemicals at those schools was less than 50 % of the bid.)
  5. Selection and employment of a reputable hazardous waste removal contractor, CleanHarbors. CleanHarbors meets the bonding requirements established and has an excellent performance record. In addition the waste disposal techniques and compliance with governmental regulations of CleanHarbors have been vetted by the chemists and chemical engineers in Ashland Chemical�s environmental section. CleanHarbors is employed by many other chemical companies, universities, and governmental agencies.
  6. The Safety Seminars provided needed education of 945 school officials in the responsible care of chemicals, which is now the national standard. Seminar topics included the hazards and proper storage of chemicals, the selection of chemicals to be removed, the need for and use of Material Safety Data Sheets, the development of a school-wide safety program and policy, and compliance with governmental regulations. (The Safety Seminar Handbook developed, written, and printed for each participating school is a national model.)
  7. Safety awareness in Ohio has been dramatically increased with the presentations of seminars to the All Ohio School Safety Congress, other governmental agencies, and concerned groups of teachers, school board members, parents, citizens, etc.
  8. The American Chemical Society and The National Science Teachers Association are supporting this program and currently exploring way of disseminating it nationally.


      1. The information provided at the safety seminars, the partnership program, and the continuing programs will prevent the recrudescence of this problem. (Many of the unwanted chemicals found in schools have been there a long time. A significant fraction was acquired before World War II and the manufacturer�s lot number was used to trace one chemical to 1911. The hazards of many of the chemicals were unknown until recently. The requirement for chemical manufacturers to provide standardized information about the hazards, uses, and characteristics of chemicals are only a decade old. (Understanding the information on MSDS was taught in the Safety Seminars.)

      2. Many students have been saved from harm by thoughtful planning, developing an awareness of hazards, the use of appropriate precautions, and the removal of potentially lethal chemicals from schools.

      3. School administrators, teachers, and board members have warmly received the HWRP. Every school that has participated reported no disruption to school during removal due to the professionalism of the CleanHarbors staff.

      4. There is a palpable sense of relief that accompanied the removal of chemicals that pose a threat to the health and well being of staff and students.

      5. The HWRP has provided a unique opportunity to teach important environmental lessons concerning the proper disposal of hazardous materials.


Communication with the targeted school districts was not easy. The Ohio Department of Education announced the HWRP to all Ohio schools by the Ohio School Boards Association, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, and by Science Education Council of Ohio. Even though the announcement was made in the plainest language the initial response was less than 85%. Additional attempts to communicate by using the county sanitarians were successful in extending the HWRP to 94% of the School districts.

The Ohio Legislature and Ohio Department of Education have been widely recognized for the forethought and wisdom of this proactive effort to improve safety of schools. (Articles about the Ohio HWRP have appeared in several national publications.)

Clifford L. Schrader, Ph.D.