Who knew that programs that increase indoor environmental quality have been proven to reduce absenteeism by 23 percent, or that all public schools in Connecticut will be required to green clean as of July 1, 2011? The facilities management department at Regional School District No. 6 in Litchfield, Conn. is very much aware of both points. In fact, this information is just a taste of the environmental initiatives the department touts on the district website.

At a quick glance, visitors to the district site will see that the facilities management department is proud to communicate a comprehensive recycling program, the use of biodegradable and non-toxic products, and environmentally preferable purchasing of paper, soaps, equipment and various hand tools. As it turns out, these are just a few of the green goals the district has implemented.

To round out the district's green strategies, the department also introduced chemical-free cleaning initiatives in 2009. With training and assistance from their local distributor, the facilities management department now uses a consolidated amount of environmentally preferred products as a way to directly contribute to a cleaner environment, while improving indoor air quality (IAQ), worker safety and a healthier environment for building occupants.

"We are very much ahead of the curve when it comes to green," says Fran Odell, facilities director at Regional School District No. 6. "We do it because of the benefits it provides."

Going Chemical Free

When it comes to benefits of green, Odell can't say enough great things about the chemical-free program and electrically-activated water technology used throughout the district. Not only has the use of this technology saved budget dollars (by purchasing fewer chemicals), but it proved to be very versatile.

"We use [electrically-activated water] in administration and district offices, classrooms and even around plants in the agricultural department," says Odell. "It's proven effective on glass, mirrors, stainless steal, white boards, desks and cafeteria tables. We use it everywhere."

According to Tom Medonis, facility maintenance day supervisor, electrically-activated water technology is used to clean roughly 80 percent of the buildings throughout the district. And to guarantee its effectiveness, the department periodically asks their local distributor to come in and conduct surface tests using ATP measuring devises.

The positive results from the ATP testing, in conjunction with improved appearance and quick and easy cleaning, is enough to convince Odell that this technology is a district-wide must.

"We've seen many positive results from chemical-free cleaning," she says. "It is effective, better for the environment and safer for everyone involved. I am constantly recommending it."

Bruce Richard, facility maintenance professional adds, "I am always hearing positive feedback from students and staff on how clean the facility is and this technology offers quick cleaning turnaround."

Although chemical-free cleaning has proven to be a viable alternative for much of the district, there are areas where chemicals are a necessity. In restrooms, for instance, where sanitizing is required, concentrated Green Seal certified chemicals are used in conjunction with metering and dilution control systems.

The only chemical in the districts arsenal that isn't green is disinfectant, but it's not by choice. Odell comments that she's anxious for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue their evaluation of greener disinfectants. Once the EPA suggests greener options, her department will begin incorporating them into their program.

"It's just the right thing to do," says Odell. "There are better options out there than the harsh disinfectants used in many departments today."

Why Chemical Free?

"We did it to improve the health and safety of the students and the staff," says Scott Johnson, second-shift facility maintenance professional. "The programs we have in place have proven to help keep all the building occupants healthy."

The district has seen reduced absenteeism following the introduction of chemical-free cleaning, but more importantly, building occupants have also noticed an improvement in their own health since the switch in cleaning initiatives.

"One teacher said that last year was the first time she didn't have an asthma attack at school," said Medonis.

These types of results are exactly why the department switched to chemical-free cleaning. Creating a safe and healthy environment is an overall goal of the district and the facilities maintenance department will continue to do everything they can to achieve that goal.

According to the district website, the vision at Regional School District No. 6 is "to take meaningful steps toward preserving, protecting and enhancing natural resources while providing a healthy learning environment and maximizing fiscal resources. We will never compromise the safety of our staff and students and we will adjust our cleaning practices whenever instructed by local or state health agencies."

This vision is something Odell and her team takes very seriously. As green initiatives continue to evolve, the facilities maintenance department at Regional School District No. 6 will maintain a "practice what you preach" philosophy.

What Is Electrically-Activated Water?

Contrary to many beliefs, the effectiveness of electrically-activated water is not based solely on electrolysis, although it does change the water chemistry. According to the white paper, "How Activated Water Products Work," Robert W. Powitz Ph.D., contract instructor with NSF International writes, "Water electrolysis is actually applied to create ‘charged' nano-sized gas bubbles, or ‘nanobubbles' in water."

These electrically-charged bubbles will then attach themselves to dirt particles causing those particles to become charged and repel from surfaces. This process enables soils to become suspended in the water and easily wiped away.

Powitz goes on to explain how activated water kills germs and sanitizes by applying a low-level electrical field to bacteria or viruses.

"This electric charge creates holes in the membrane of the cell, known as ‘porating' the cell wall and thus breaks down the walls of bacterial cells, pathogenic viruses and other germs, killing them," he writes.

Sanitization is only possible when an electrical charge is being sent through the water and spraying continues for six seconds.