Some schools are seeking greener options to combat the potentially negative impacts of disinfectant on children’s health and the environment.

“There’s no green certification for disinfectants, so it puts schools in a bind when they’re trying to be environmentally responsible and protect children’s health,” says Bishop. “There’s also the dichotomy of saying disinfection is about protecting students’ health, but we want to minimize exposure.”

Bishop suggests schools try to minimize the use of quaternary ammonia compounds and chlorine and start investigating hydrogen peroxide and citric acid-based products. Some schools are also exploring non-chemical options, such as water-based solutions.

“Steam and vapor can be very effective and don’t increase the chemical loads in a school,” says Bishop.

UV wands are another method of killing germs without the use of chemicals. But as Rathey points out, the wand has to be positioned three or four inches from the surface and move slowly in order to be effective — a disadvantage for custodians who are strapped for time.

As always, prevention is better than cure. Educating students in proper hand washing techniques can help to reduce the spread of germs as well as the frequent use of disinfectant that can contribute to indoor air pollution and respiratory problems.

“You have to teach students and staff proper hand washing, proper hygiene, and proper cough and sneeze procedures,” says Bishop. “Before you ask, ‘What products are we going to use?’ make sure you’re teaching kids how to prevent the transmission of germs between one another. Because no matter how well you clean and disinfect, you still have a room full of kids carrying germs, and that will never change.” 

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