Toxics Reduction Suggestions for Communities

by Rick Reibstein

Mass. Green Careers Conference, 9.29.2016

  1. Purchasing
    Institute purchasing practices that reduce risks while maintaining or improving quality and economy.  This entails getting information about what’s in products and evaluating if any ingredients are of concern, and predicting whether ingredients of concern may be released over the life of the product, as well as performance.  Comparing greener and safer products to currently used products should include assessing whether there are longer-term savings or other benefits that compensate for higher upfront costs.  Such an effort can be performed more easily with three steps:
    a.  Understand what makes a “green certification” reliable.
    b.  Institute the practice of regularly performing trials.
    c.  Use qualitative as well as quantitative risk evaluation.
  2. Lead
    Identify probable lead painted surfaces and examine their condition.  Consider enclosure or encapsulation before removal. Test bare soils where children play.  Cover them with fresh soil and plant grass.  Test soils by old painted walls, consider planting bushes or other actions to prevent contact if leaded.Institute the more protective protocols for testing water.  Understand the proper way to test for lead in water. Ensure all work that disturbs lead paint is lead-safe, for renovations and repairs, not just where required by the legal definition of “child-occupied.”  Ensure someone is present at the cleaning verification step.  Ensure you have all the documentation that the work has been performed as required.
  3. VOCs
    Use low emission coatings and furnishings, install when no occupancy and use ventilation during off-gassing period.  Avoid the use of commercial air fresheners, remove source of odors.  If this is not achievable, use only natural products for air freshening.  Consider using VOC air monitor.
  4. Building Materials
    Consult greenbuilding guides (Healthy Building Network, Pharos, LEED, Healthy Building Science, Building Green and GreenSpec, GreenBuilding Advisor) to select better building materials and keep up with better building design advances.
  5. Insulation
    Consider toxic and environmental aspects of insulation, not just R-value.  Use foam installation only if the applicator follows strict quality control.  Understand the reduction in air exchange that will result from very tight envelope and improve ventilation to compensate.  For ventilation, consider the value of heat-exchanging, smart (turns on when needed, off when not), durable, quiet, fail-safe (notifies you when it fails).  Consider using CO2 monitor.
  6. Pesticides
    Safe grounds care and structural pest management, avoiding chlorpyrifos, neonicotinoids, persistent pesticides.  Require a report on the pest, access, attractants, water intrusion and consideration of least toxic or nonchemical methods first.  Know the difference between “can do Integrated Pest Management” and actually doing it.  Abjure calendar spraying.  Question indoor applications.  Question use of herbicides.  Consider compost teas.  Prohibit gaspowered backpack leaf blowers.
  7. PCBs, Asbestos
    Identify PCBs and asbestos, seal it in, evaluate.  Assess flooring and whether maintenance creates dusts of concern, or uses chemicals of concern.
  8. Fuels, Chemicals
    Safe storage of fuels, chemicals.  Examine if vulnerable to flood, wind, power outage.
  9. Engines
    Assess use of two-stroke engines and consider replacing with electrical alternatives.
  10. Artificial Turf
    Follow directions on artificial turf and crumb rubber for infections and physical injuries.
  11. Chemicals
    Develop information on safer, greener chemistries in chemistry and biology classes (such as Beyond Benign).  Calculate cost of waste management.  Clear out old chemicals in storage, secure from unauthorized access.
  12. Ventilation
    Wherever indoor exposures of dust, vapors, fumes could result, consider down-draft or local ventilation.
  13. Food, Cleaning Chemicals
    Examine sanitizing and cleaning in food department.  Consider state-approved safer cleaners and new hypochlorous or hydrogen peroxide replacements for bleach or quats.
  14. Vehicles, Ventilation
    Consider the air emissions of fuels and vehicles and whether they are drawn into ventilation system.  Consider the use of heat pumps.
  15. Landscaping
    Plant native plants to reduce the need for watering, herbicides, fertilizers.
  16. Mold
    Address mold through evaluation of water intrusion.
  17. Flame Retardants
    Pay attention to the use of flame retardants as ingredients of concerns; find alternatives.
  18. Stain Resistant Fabrics
    Pay attention to the use of stain resistant fabrics as ingredients of concern, know alternatives.
  19. Mercury
    Handle mercury-containing materials with care.
  20. Indoor Air
    Track Indoor Air complaints and asthma-related incidents.
  21. Ingredients
    Ingredients of concern include carcinogens, VOCs, neurotoxins, asthmagens, sensitizers, endocrine disruptors, flammables, reactives, substances classed as hazardous when waste, substances that come with an SDS that requires use of protective equipment.


A recent article in the respected medical journal, The Lancet, identified methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene as posing long established threats to brain development, and commented that “Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants—manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers.”

The authors note that more than 1,000 chemicals have been reported to cause neurological damage in animal studies, and comment that “Strong evidence exists that industrial chemicals widely disseminated in the environment are important contributors to what we have called the global, silent pandemic of neurodevelopmental toxicity.”

Lead exposure has been strongly linked with poor performance in school, arsenic has been linked with cognitive deficits, manganese has been linked with reduced mathematical and intellectual capacity, pesticides have been linked with lasting neurobehavioral deficits, and exposure to solvents has been linked with hyperactivity and aggressive behavior, as well as increased risk of psychiatric diagnoses.  Evidence indicates that flame retardants, phthalates, and perfluorinated compounds pose similar concerns.

In addition to neurotoxic effects children’s health is threatened by exposure to chemicals that cause or exacerbate asthma or have other respiratory impacts or which cause sensitization, by exposures that reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, are carcinogenic, or damage their health in other ways.  A child who has difficulty breathing, who has skin rashes, who has stomach upset or headaches, or must leave school for medical treatment is a child whose learning is interrupted and inhibited.

When a problem is caused by a harmful substance that need not be used or present in the school environment, it is crucial to recognize that the problem could have been avoided, and to take steps to reduce the frequency of any such harm in the future.  Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity”, Dr Philippe Grandjean, Philip J Landrigan, MD.; published online: 14 February 2014,

Grandjean and Landrigan report that “The most recent estimates from the USA indicate that the annual costs of childhood lead poisoning are about US$50 billion and that the annual costs of methylmercury toxicity are roughly US$5 billion. In the European Union, methylmercury exposure is estimated to cause a loss of about 600,000 IQ points every year, corresponding to an annual economic loss of close to €10 billion. In France alone, lead exposure is associated with IQ losses that correspond to annual costs that might exceed €20 billion.”

Lead Safe Contracting – the new (2010) Renovation rule requires certification in lead-safe practices, when above-threshold amounts of paint is disturbed in child-occupied facilities.  But lead-safe work should be performed in all facilities, this is a minimum regulatory standard.  Older children should not be exposed to lead dusts either.  Plus, there are a few important things to do when using certified contractors: get the required documentation, and be there when the “cleaning verification” is performed.

Lead in water – the 2015 report of the Lead and Copper Advisory Committee recommended improvements in the sampling procedures, finding that compliance with the rules as they are is not good enough.

Cleaners – chlorine and QUATs are asthmagens.  Much safer hydrogen peroxide alternatives have been approved by the state’s EPP program.  Municipalities may buy off the state contract.  These products have been a huge success in state facilities.

Topics discussed at the conference:

  • Flame retardants, nonstick (teflon), formaldehyde, spray foam insulation
  • Floor finishes, paints, air fresheners, antibacterials.
  • PCBs in caulk and flooring.
  • Pharmaceutical waste.
  • Two-stroke noisy engines.
  • VSQGs – where does their waste go?
  • HHW?
  • LEPCs, responders to fires with chemicals.
  • Nano-particle sun protection lotion on broken skin, breathed in, needle-like in milk, asbestos-like carbon forms, nanosilver being washed out of socks, one-way not circular, will build up. Translocating within body.
  • Resilience – What will communities do to ensure that chemical and fuel storage is kept secure from floods, stronger winds, greater chance of wildfire, tornado, loss of power?
  • Waste sites that have not been closed.
  • Water supplies that may become contaminated.
  • Septic systems ineffectively treating discharges.
  • Urban runoff in streams – salt – what wears from cars – lead wheel weights.
  • Offgassing from carpets.
  • Pesticides.
  • Household glues.
  • Driveway sealant.

Reibstein worked for 27 years for the Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance, providing free and confidential assistance to facilities in reducing the use of toxics, energy and water, and complying with applicable laws. 339 223 9057