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Horseheads High School

An Evaluation of a Rural School in the Southern Tier of New York State Regarding its Ability to Implement the Principles of Green Chemistry in their Science Classes

Horseheads High School Front SignHorseheads High School was chosen as a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) green chemistry candidate school representing the Southern Tier of New York State.

Horseheads High School is a rural school, serving grades 9-12 with approximately 1,300 students. It is located in the town of Horseheads, in Chemung County, in the Southern Tier region of New York State. The Southern Tier region of the state is represented by the southern New York State counties west of the Catskill Mountains along the northern border of Pennsylvania and includes Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany, Steuben, Chemung, Tioga and Broome counties.

The school follows the traditional New York State science sequence of Regents earth science, living environment, chemistry and physics. Horseheads High School does offer Advanced Placement (AP) level science courses in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. It also offers a number of elective science courses in a wide variety of disciplines, including Astronomy/Historical Geology, North American Wildlife, Anatomy and Physiology, Marine Biology, and Zoology. Horseheads High School is an average "needs to resource" ratio school as categorized by the New York State Education Department (SED) report card.*

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 these benefits, in terms of toxicity reduction, safety, and cost savings. These markers 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 in part by a grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Region 2, and administered by the Division of Materials Management's Toxic Reduction & Green Chemistry Section of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).**

The study was undertaken in four steps; the first step being a site investigation by DEC staff to conduct both a chemical inventory assessment and to determine if the school was a viable candidate for adapting the principles of green chemistry as a sustainable practice. The second step included a commitment by school administration and staff to take the steps necessary to implement the principles of green chemistry in their chemistry classes for one school calendar year. The third step included completing green chemistry training conducted by DEC staff and Beyond Benign, a non-profit organization contracted by the DEC. The fourth and final step required the candidate school to report back to the DEC on their teaching results after implementing the principles of green chemistry in their high school science classes.

Results

The overall methodologies used in this case study indicate that the format works. The study showed that the candidate school benefitted from proper chemical management practices as the chemical inventory reorganization efforts conducted by the DEC resulted in the reduction of stocked chemicals. Teachers then received training in the principles of green chemistry to apply to their science lesson plans/labs.

Quantity (by weight) chemical reduction: 79.7% known carcinogens; 91.9% possible carcinogens; 90.6% very hazardous to health chemicals; 87.3% severe irritants; 78.0% reactive/oxidizers (possible violent reactants); 90.6% corrosives; 77.3% flammable chemicals. The total chemical storage reduction was 66.0%. The highly toxic and hazardous chemicals reduction was 89.0%. The majority of kept chemicals (88.9%) were in the low and very low toxic and hazardous chemical categories. The number of chemical containers were reduced by 63.4%. These reductions dramatically opened up more available chemical storage space.

The green chemistry workshop: Held as part of this case study, enabled 30 science teachers, representing 24 high schools in 17 counties from the Southern Tier, Central and Western New York State, to become aware of the benefits of proper chemical management and green chemistry. Three teachers from Horseheads High School were participants. The workshop ensures that interested stakeholders are aware of the benefits of green chemistry with regard to toxicity reduction and cost savings.

Lessons Learned, Challenges and Opportunities

Right from the start, one of the chemistry teachers from Horseheads High School emerged as a green chemistry teacher leader, a stellar example of a teacher going above and beyond with green chemistry. What is unique about this teacher is that she started down the green chemistry path even before DEC visited her school. In 2014, she attended the DEC Green Chemistry Summer Institute at Siena College, a three-day green chemistry intensive training. Then in 2015, this teacher, along with her fellow science teachers, went on to attend the one-day DEC green chemistry training held at Ithaca College.
Chemistry Teachers at Horseheads High School

This chemistry teacher reported that she has tried six green chemistry experiments that she learned at the trainings: Empirical Formula, Chemical Hazard Awareness, Acids and Bases, Exothermic and Endothermic Reactions, Recycling Polylactic Acid, and Solubility.

She remarked that some of the experiments worked very well, but some did not. For example, the Acids and Bases green chemistry experiment, which makes use of organic indicators derived from red cabbage juice, beet and blueberry juice, was a success. The chemistry teacher noted that using materials that were familiar, made it more interesting for her students.

The Solubility Curve with sugar lab did not have good results. Most of her students ended up making syrup instead of crystals, and by heating up the solutions for a very long time, they were using a lot of energy, which did not make this experiment very green.

This chemistry teacher explained to her students ahead of time that they were doing greener versions of chemistry labs which generated a lot of discussion. It fact, when a corporate chemist came to her class to talk with her students about careers in chemistry and how his company had discovered Styrofoam, more than half of her students swiveled around to look at her. The students then went on to question the guest speaker about environmental concerns associated with Styrofoam.

This chemistry teacher from Horseheads High School went on to state that she definitely will be continuing to associate chemistry with environmental consequences to raise awareness and continue using more green chemistry experiments in her classes.

A copy of the full case study, "Green Chemistry Piloted at a Rural High School in New York's Southern Tier" is available at Horseheads High School (PDF, 326 KB).

*The need to 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 #NP-96296412 to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, it has not gone through the Agency's publication review process and, many not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsements should be inferred.


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