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Sachem High School East

Evaluation of Sachem High School East Regarding its Ability to Implement the Principles of Green Chemistry in their Science Classes

Image of Sachem High School East building
Sachem High School East

Sachem High School East is one of two high schools in a large suburban district on Long Island and is an "average needs with average resources" school (as categorized by the New York State Education Department (SED) school report card).* It is located in the Long Island region of New York State in Farmingville, in Suffolk County. The school has approximately 14,000 students in grades pre-K-12 and offers a full complement of chemistry courses including non-regents, regents, honors, AP Chemistry and a special course in scientific research which allows students to work on a project in a science area of particular interest to the student. Sachem High School East was constructed in 2004, and the science facilities reflect modern construction methods.

Objectives

The goal of this case study is to ascertain whether or not this school can benefit from proper chemical management and the implementation of the principles of green chemistry. Additionally, a function of this study will be to provide evidence of the benefits, in terms of toxicity reduction and cost savings that can be used as educational tools to illustrate the value of proper chemical management and green chemistry to key stakeholder groups.

Work Performed

The project was funded by a grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2 (USEPA), administered by the Division of Materials Management's Toxic Reduction Section of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).**

The study was undertaken in steps; the first being an evaluation of the need for assistance which included a site investigation by NYSDEC staff, to determine if the school was a viable green chemistry candidate. The second step included a commitment by school administration and staff to take the steps necessary to implement the principles of green chemistry for one school calendar year in their chemistry classes. The third step included completing green chemistry training conducted by NYSDEC staff and Beyond Benign, a non-profit organization contracted by the NYSDEC. Finally, the fourth step involved having the candidate school report back to the NYSDEC on their teaching results after implementing the principles of green chemistry in their high school classes.

Results

The overall methodologies used in this case study indicate that the format is successful. The study indicated that the school benefited from proper chemical management practices as the chemical inventory and reorganization efforts conducted by the NYSDEC resulted in a 32% decrease in line item chemicals for the school's chemical inventory. A total of 234.7 lbs. of hazardous/highly toxic chemicals were removed from the inventory, resulting in a 30.6% reduction. Evidence of these benefits were seen in the cost savings realized with the disposal of chemicals identified during the chemical inventory and re-organization process. If, the school had hired a private contractor to do the inventory, transportation and disposal of the chemicals, the cost would have been $19,773. As NYSDEC and BOCES staff performed the work, the cost was $7,353, a savings of $12,420.

The workshop and training held as part of this case study, enabled 22 science teachers from 11 high schools in Suffolk County to become aware of the benefits of proper chemical management and green chemistry. An additional eight observers from organizations as varied as Eastern Suffolk County BOCES, Nassau County BOCES, Port Jefferson Maritime Explorium and SUNY Stony Brook ensured that interested stakeholders have been made aware of the benefits of green chemistry with regard to toxicity reduction and cost savings.

Group photo of all of Sachem's science teachers
Science Teachers

Although the teachers from Sachem High School East were late implementing green chemistry in the classroom, we believe it is not because they have failed to embrace its principles. Rather, the lingering effects of super storm Sandy may have played a role in delaying implementation. Cancellations appear to have forced teachers to play catch-up in completing regular chemistry requirements instead of implementing new criteria. Based on the response to the workshops and the late comments received from specific green chemistry experiments, we believe that the school will embrace the principles of green chemistry in the 2014-2015 school year.

Lessons Learned, Challenges and Opportunities

The fact that this was such a large school with multiple chemical storage areas, and the school did not have an up to date chemical inventory, the bulk and research storage areas were not part of the inventory. This case study reinforced the need for a current and complete chemical management system-especially for large schools with a large chemical inventory. Time and budget limitations within the grant prevented NYSDEC staff from inventorying the central storage areas where excess chemicals, infrequently used chemicals, or chemicals which were highly hazardous in nature were kept. This school would have benefitted from having an up to date inventory and a certified laboratory technician to manage the inventory in addition to the chemical hygiene officer as required by the OSHA laboratory standard. A subsequent inventory by Sachem High School teachers revealed that a significant number of known carcinogens as well as possible carcinogens were identified in the main storage area and were recommended for removal.

Sachem High School East utilizes a public drinking water system. All liquid wastes are directed to either an underground neutralization tank or an on-site septic system. These systems are managed by the school and emptied on a regular basis. When discharging directly to the septic system instead of a public sewer or sewage treatment system, it is vitally important to reduce the amount of highly toxic chemicals in storage. The challenge here is to reduce the number and amount of highly toxic chemicals in storage and the opportunity for this exists if the school adopts the principles of green chemistry, not only for health & safety, but also for the environment. NYSDEC provided the teachers with a list of hazardous chemicals to avoid.

This case study showed the importance of implementing the principle of green chemistry not just for on-site safety but for off-site safety as well. NYSDEC recommended that the teachers incorporate the green chemistry experiments into their in-house prepared chemistry laboratory manual, which is used in all the chemistry courses including Regents chemistry.

Among other important lessons learned in this case study was that at such a large school with many teachers and a wide variety of chemistry courses offered, it was possible to implement the principles of green chemistry on a large scale. Green chemistry principles were introduced at every level from non-regents, regents, honors, AP and a special course in scientific research. This allowed students to work on projects in areas of particular interest to them. This also demonstrates the opportunity to potentially involve area universities with green chemistry.

A copy of the full Evaluation of a Large Suburban High School Regarding its Ability to Implement the Principles of Green Chemistry in their Science Classes is available at Sachem High School (PDF, 712 KB).

*The need/resource capacity index, a measure of the district's ability to meet the needs of its students with local resources, is the ratio of the estimated poverty percentage to its combined wealth ratio.

**Disclaimer. Although the information in this document has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under grant # NP6296412 to The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, it has not gone through the Agency's publication review process and, therefore, may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsements should be inferred.


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