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Nottingham High School

An Evaluation of an Urban School in Central New York State Regarding its Ability to Implement the Principles of Green Chemistry in their Science Classes

Nottingham High School was chosen as a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (NYSDEC)William Nottingham High School green chemistry candidate school representing the Syracuse area in central New York State.

Nottingham High School is an urban school, serving grades 9-12 with approximately 1,200 students, as part of the Syracuse City School District (SCSD). It is located in the city of Syracuse, in Onondaga County, in New York State. Nottingham High School follows the New York State Regents sequence of earth science, living environment, chemistry and physics. In addition, Nottingham High School does offer Advanced Placement (AP) level science courses. It is a "high needs with limited resources" school (as categorized by the New York State Education Department (SED) school 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, Region 2 (USEPA), 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. The study showed that the school benefitted from proper chemical management practices as the chemical inventory reorganization efforts conducted by the NYSDEC resulted in the reduction of stocked chemicals as follows:

41.0% known carcinogens; 92.9% possible carcinogens; 15.8% severe irritants; 26.6% reactive/oxidizers (possible violent reactants); 10.6% corrosives; 14.6% flammable chemicals and 80.8% toxic chemicals. The total chemical storage reduction was 26.2%. The majority of kept chemicals (63.2%) were fewer in number and mostly comprised of less toxic chemicals. The number of chemical containers was reduced by 43.9% which opened more shelf space for organized chemical storage.

The green chemistry workshop, held as part of this case study, enabled 29 science teachers, representing 23 high schools from nine counties (predominantly from central New York State), to become aware of the benefits of proper chemical management and green chemistry. This has resulted in an increased awareness by interested stakeholders of the benefits of green chemistry with regard to toxicity reduction, safety and cost savings.

Lessons Learned, Challenges and Opportunities

One teacher from Nottingham High School was trained in the principles of green chemistry. Green chemistry trained teacher

The chemistry teacher used seven out of the 10 experiments from the green chemistry workshop in her chemistry classes.

She preferred using the green chemistry experiments because the materials for the experiments were cheaper to purchase and because there was little to no toxicity, therefore, cleanup and disposal were easier. The only negative for green chemistry use reported by this teacher is that she has to pay "out-of-pocket" for items purchased at the grocery store and is not reimbursed for the costs.

The teacher liked that green chemistry was good for the environment, had fewer health hazards for her and the students, and increased efficiency.

Overall, the chemistry teacher's students were very enthusiastic and interested in using the green chemistry experiments. One reason, the teacher theorized, was that her students felt more comfortable using materials they were more familiar with, such as baking soda, vinegar, soap, liver, pixie sticks, Epsom salts, potato pieces, etc. She also made a point of explaining to her students, beforehand, why the experiments were green and the benefit to the environment when it came time for disposal. As a consequence, her student's reactions were very positive because they felt they were doing their part to help the environment.

From a health perspective, since many of the chemistry teacher's students have allergies, using green chemistry experiments lessens the possibility of an allergy attack being triggered due to chemical sensitivities. Moreover, since the chemicals and materials used are relatively less or non-toxic, there is a more relaxed atmosphere in the classroom; both teacher and student, alike, don't have to worry about accidents, or toxic exposures by chemicals more traditionally used. By being more at ease, the chemistry teacher felt that the students were more open to learning about the concepts of chemistry without the anxiety of being hurt.

Nottingham High School's chemistry teacher was very grateful for DEC's assistance in inventorying and cleaning out her chemical storage room, which not only contained a significant number of old, toxic and hazardous chemicals, but some chemicals of imminent hazard and danger. This teacher now reports feeling much more in control of her chemical inventory, and appreciates that there is much more room in the storage area.

She intends to keep using the green chemistry experiments and would be very interested in having access to more green chemistry experiments and the opportunity to attend more green chemistry training.

Nottingham's chemistry teacher is an example of highly-motivated and dedicated teacher who has emerged from this project as a green chemistry leader. From previous DEC green chemistry case studies, it was shown that a single teacher, who doesn't have reinforcement from other similarly green-chemistry trained teachers, has a more difficult time instituting change in their teaching curricula. However, this candidate school chemistry teacher's use of many of the green chemistry experiments and a willingness to share green chemistry information with her colleagues makes her stand out as an exception to the rule.

A copy of the full case study, "Green Chemistry Piloted at an Urban High School in Syracuse, New York" is available at Nottingham 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, may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsements should be inferred.


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