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Williamsville East High School

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

Williamsville East High School was chosen as a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Williamsville East High School(NYSDEC) green chemistry candidate school representing the Buffalo area in western New York State.

Williamsville East High School is one of three high schools of the Williamsville Central School District located in East Amherst, a suburb located outside the city of Buffalo, in Erie County, New York. This high school is unique for having open classrooms, being constructed without any interior walls. It serves grades 9-12 with approximately 1,050 students enrolled in the school. The school follows the traditional New York State Regents science sequence of earth science, living environment, chemistry and physics, and offers Advanced Placement (AP) level science courses for biology, chemistry, physics and environmental science. They also teach anatomy & physiology, forensic science, astronomy, and natural disasters. Williamsville East High School is a low "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 the benefits, in terms of toxicity reduction, safety, 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 (USEPA), Region 2, administered by the Division of Materials Management's Toxic Reduction & Green Chemistry Section of the 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 works, although this school had far less need for NYSDEC chemical management assistance than the other three candidate schools. Williamsville East High School, just prior to the NYSDEC site assessment, had a recent chemical cleanout. Therefore, there was a relatively low quantity of chemicals in their inventory. However, in assessing the limited chemical inventory, NYSDEC did note some areas where there could be further improvement.

There were originally 325 pounds of chemicals inventoried of which 187 pounds were classified as highly toxic and hazardous chemicals including: known carcinogens; possible carcinogens; very hazardous to health chemicals; and severe irritants; which represented 58% of the total chemicals stored.

NYSDEC staff were able to recommend improvements to the existing chemical management system by reducing the quantity of highly toxic, hazardous and not-needed chemicals. The chemical reductions are as follows:

Quantity (by weight) reduction: 69.5% known carcinogens; 14.4% possible carcinogens; 12.4% severe irritants; 42.1% reactive/oxidizers (possible violent reactants); and 8.0% flammable chemicals. The total chemical storage reduction was 12.7%. The highly toxic and hazardous chemicals reduction was 15.2%.

The green chemistry workshop, held as part of this case study, enabled 29 science teachers, representing 21 high schools from seven counties - predominantly from western New York State, to become aware of the benefits of proper chemical management and green chemistry. This ensures that interested stakeholders are aware of the benefits of green chemistry with regard to toxicity reduction, safety and cost savings.

Lessons Learned, Challenges and Opportunities

Four teachers from Williamsville East High School were trained in the principles of green chemistry.

The chemistry teachers reported that they have used four green chemistry experiments. They particularly liked the Williamsville East High School Chemistry Teachersgreener version of Le Chatelier's Principle/Equilibrium experiment using starch, iodine, and black tea, to look at equilibrium. They also reported that this experiment showed the reversibility and shifts due to stress, easily and effectively. The chemistry teachers appreciated that this experiment was easy to set up and clean up, after it was finished.

It was remarked that although some of the green chemistry experiments worked very well, some did not. The chemistry teachers reported that the Solubility green chemistry experiment was flawed in that there were inconsistencies in the directions for the dropper part of the lab between the sheet and the data table.

An interesting application for green chemistry was reported being used in one of the teacher's biology pH and indicator labs, as well as in her catalase enzyme lab. In the catalase lab, she chose to use less hazardous acetic acid rather than hydrochloric acid. This teacher also reported diluting all of her acids and bases this year as a result of the green chemistry training she had. Now, her students are using less concentrated acids and bases. Additionally, she had her students only use spot plates and smaller quantities of chemicals.

This teacher made a point of sharing the green chemistry concept with her students and how toxic and hazardous chemicals disposed down the drain can ultimately have negative consequences on the environment. She reported that her students seemed receptive to the message.

There was sharing of green chemistry information between the team of four chemistry teachers as the need or opportunity presented itself. Even though they reported that most of their chemistry experiments were basically on the greener side, green chemistry training triggered some notable improvements being made to their traditional chemistry experiments. For example, on the flame test laboratory experiment, they will now be using only the metal salts listed in the green chemistry experiment version rather than using heavier metal salts like barium. The teachers have also switched to a safer procedure for their alloy penny lab.

The teachers reported trying to buy only "greener" materials, with the caveat that they still have to "do the job". They affirmed that they feel that the use of green chemistry experiments in the high school laboratory setting is viable, both in time and in required content. So, "Why not be green!"

Green chemistry techniques and experiments have been implemented successfully at Williamsville East High School, due to the commitment and great teamwork of its chemistry teachers. However, the teachers felt they could have benefitted further from more green chemistry training and reinforcement. One of the Williamsville East High School teachers did go on later to participate in the three day, 2015 DEC Green Chemistry Summer Institute held at Siena College.

A copy of the full case study, "Green Chemistry Piloted at a Suburban High School in Near Buffalo, New York" is available at Williamsville East High School (PDF, 722 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 #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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